THE POETICS OF AN IMAGINARY SCIENCE
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in partial fulfillment of the requirements
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Doctor of Philosophy
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PATAPHYS ICS :
THE FOETICS OF AN IMAGINARY SCIENCE
a dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies of
York University in partial fulfillrnent of the requirements for the
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
Permission has been granted to the LlBRARY OF YORK
C;NIVERSITY to lend or seIl copies of this dissertation, to the
NATIONAL L18RARY OF CANADA to microfilm this dissertation
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othenivise reproduced without the author's written permission.
'Pata~hssics: The Poetics of an Imaainarv Science is a
survey that attempts to describe a hypothetic philosophpthe
avant-garde pseudo-science imagined by Alfred Jarry.
'Pataphysics is a supplement to metaphysics, accenting it,
then replacing it, in order to create a philosophic
alternative, whose discipline can study cases, not of
conception, but of exception: variance (anomalos), alliance
(syzuaia), and deviance (clinamen). 'Pataphysics
synthesizes the romantic schism between a literal,
scientized discourse and a figural, poeticized discourse,
and my thesis suggests that this revision of the signifier
"science" by 'pataphysics is symptomatic of a postrnodern
transition in science from a paradigm of absolutism to a
paralogy of relativism.
Structured as a descriptive
explication, which emphasizes a theoretical perspective,
this survey is divided into five chapters:
chapter recounts the history of the conflict between science
and poetry (in order to contextualize 'pataphysics within
the metaphysical philosophies of the past); the second
chapter examines the avant-garde pseudo-science of
'pataphysics itself (in order to contextualize 'pataphysics
within the anti-metaphysical meta-philosophies of the
present); and finally, the last three chapters discuss the
influence of 'pataphysics upon the poetics of its subsequent
successors (first, the Italian Futurists; second, the French
Oulipians; and third, the Canadian "Pataphysicians). While
mg thesis focuses upon theories of textual poetics rather
than poetry itself (relyLng upon the kind of Nietzschean
sophistries that have come to characterize postmodern
philosophy), my thesis does nevertheless çtrive to be as
conceptually encyclopedic as 'pataphysics itself:
of normalizing 'pataphysics within one theoretical
perspective, this survey alludes intermittently to
'pataphysical enterprises that constitute exceptions to such
a genealogy of Jarryites. What is at stake is the status of
poetry in a world of science.
How might poetry reclaim its
own viable truth How might science benefit from its own
poetic irony For the postmodern condition, such questions
have already opened up a novel space for speculative
imagination; hence, this survey presents itself as a kind of
primer for a future of possible reseerch.
The Museum of Jurassic Technolo~s in Los Angeles is a
strange gallery, where incredible verities integrate so
perfectly with believable untruths that a visitor mas not
detect the peculiar slippage from fact to hoax.
curator, has rebuilt the Wunderkammern of medieval archives,
presenting cabinets and vitrines, full of bizarre curiosa--
not only of Msotis lucifuaus (a bat whose sonar-
system can be modulated to create apertures through
substantive barriers), but of Meaaloponera foetens (an ant
whose nerve-system can be controlled by fungal parasites for
Wilson does not simply repeat the
grotesque spectacle of Ripley, since the museum does not
present the truth of the absurd with the command:
it or not!--instead,
the museum presents the truth as itself
absurd with the question:
what is it to believe or not
Weschler observes that "Wilson has[ ...]p itched his
museum at the very intersection of the premodern and the
postmodern" (go), inserting the visitor into the interstice
between wondering-at and wondering-whetherl--a
which this survey wishes to insert its own reader.
Wilson calls "Jurassic technology," we might cal1 "Jarryite
'pataphysicsW--a science of imaginary solutions, in which
the critic wishes not only to study, but also t o evoke,
cases of exceptional singularity. Like Jarry (who wilfully
occupies an ambiguous interzone between ratiocination and
hallucination), Wilson hopes to imbricate the technical
truth of modern science with the medieval magic of poetic
wisdom. This survey, likewise, strives to indulge in such a
figura1 project, since it too proposes the potential
existence of a, heretofore chimerical, science.
'Pataphysics represents a supplement to metaphysics,
accenting it, then replacing it, in order to create a
philosophic alternative to rationalism. What Wilson has
performed, Jarry has predicted: the disappearance of
scientificity itself when reason is pushed to its own
logical extreme. Such a 'pataphysical qualification of
rational validity is symptomatic of a postmodern transition
in science frorn absolutism to relativism, When even time
itself fades away into spectacular uncertainty, the very
idea that an historical technology might be called
"jurassic" no longer seems wholly absurd (since we can now
imagine a futuristic apocalypse, in which cloning might
allow a human tu coexist with a resurrected tyrannosaur--
just as cinema has cloned the image of an actual thespian
and spliced it with the image of an unreal sauropod). 2
'Pataphysics is speculative, waiting for its chance to
happen, as if by accident, in a themepark of scientific
conception. Like the museum of Wilson, this thesis on Jarry
attempts to scramble the jurassic sequence of history so
that what is extinct in the past can be called forth again
out of its context into the present where the idea of the
past itself can in turn be made e ~tinct.~ For 'pataphysics,
any science sufficiently retarded in progress must seem
magical (but only after the fact), just as any science
sufficiently advanced in progress must seem magical (but
only before the fact)--and if 'pataphysics is itself
thaumaturgic, it is so, not because of any ironic nostalgia
for a prehistoric past, but only because of its oneiric
prognosis for an ahistoric future. We see science itself
vanish before the zero-degree of its own anti-science.
Structured as a descriptive explication, which
emphasizes a theoretical perspective, this survey argues
that Jarry has provided an often neglected, but still
important, influence upon the poetic legacy of this century
(particularly the Italian Futurists, the French Oulipians,
and the Canadian "Pataphysicians) . Wbile my thes is focuses
upon theories of textual poetics rather than poetry itself
(relying upon the kind of Nietzschean sophistries that have
corne to characterize the work of such French rebels as
Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Serres, et al.), my thesis
does nevertheless strive to be as conceptually encyclopedic
as 'pataphysics itself: instead of normalizing 'pataphysics
within one thecretical perspective, this survey alludes
intermittently to 'pataphysical enterprises that constitute
exceptions to such a genealogy of Jarryites.
Recounting the transition from 'pataphysics to
"pataphysics (from the single apostrophe of France to the
double apostrophe of Canada), this survey reflects the
influence of Jarry upon my own poetic career (in particular:
my 'pataphysical encyclopedia, ~r~stalloara~hu). Inspired
by the etymology of the word "crystallography," such a work
represents an act of lucid writinq, which uses the language
of geological science to misread the poetics of rhetorical
language. Such lucid writing is not concerned with the
transparent transmission of a message (so that, ironically,
the poetry is often "opaque");' instead, lucid writing is
simply concerned with the exploratory reflexivity of its own
pattern (in a manner reminiscent of lucid dreaminq). The
capricious philosophg of 'pataphysics is itself an oneiric
science aware of its own status as a dream.
'Pataphysics reveals that science is not as "lucid" as
once thought, since science must often ignore the arbitrary,
if not whimsical, status of its own axioms. Like the work
of some 'pataphysicians (particularly the Oulipians), who
make a spectacle of such epistemic formality by writing
texts according to an absurd, but strict, rule of machinic
artifice, this survey also expresses its own extreme of
nomic rigor ( in this case, grammatical parallelism ) : each
sentence develops a chiastic symmetry as balanced as the
contrast in physics between meta and pata. The arbitrary
character of such a constraint does not simply constitute a
stylistic frivolity, but strives 'pataphysically (if not
allegorically) to dramatize a scientific perversion: that
the universe is itself an arbitrary formality, whose rules
have created a science that can in turn discuss such rules.
'Pataphysics valorizes the exception to each rule in
order to subvert the procrustean constraints of science.
While this survey may do little to change the mind of a
customary scientist (who must ignore the 'pataphysical
peculiarity of science itself in order to avoid the charge
of crackpot delusion), my survey may nevertheless convince
poets to qualify their own ludditic attitude toward science.
Such poets might recognize that, if poetry cannot oppose
science by becoming its antonyrnic extreme, perhaps poetry
can oppose science by becoming its hyperbolic extrerne, using
reason aqainst itself 'pataphysically in order to subvert
not only pedantic theories of noetic truth, but also
romantic theories of poetic genius.
Such poets might learn
to embrace the absurd nature of sophistic reasoning in order
to dispute the power of both the real and the true.
Vaneigem, however, warns us that, because of this
sophistry, "Joe Soap intellectuals, [']pataphysicians[ ...fibandwagon
after bandwagon works out its own version of the
credo quia absurdum est: you [do notJ believe in it, but
you do it anyway" (178) so that, as a result, "[ 'plataphysics[
...] leads us with many a twist and turn to the last
graveyards" (126). While such charges of nihilistic
conformism do apply to the work of some 'pataphysicians
(particularly Sandomir and Shattuck), such misgivings do not
take into account that, like Nietzsche, Jarry does
radicalize philosophy, lampooning pedagogic authority, in
order to foment a spirit of permanent rebellion, be it anti-
bourgeois or anti-philistine.'
My thesis argues that this
apparent strategy of "indifference" in 'pataphysics merely
serves to satirize the impartiality of sciexe itself.
'Pataphysics refuses to conform to any academic
standard: hence, this survey cannot demonstrate that it has
learned the lessons of its topic without also negotiating a
virtually untenable ambiguity between the noetic mandate of
scholarship and the poetic license of 'pataphysics itself.
Since no literary history has ever traced in detail the
unorthodox genealogy of this avant-garde pseudo-science, 1
hope that my survey might in effect offer a Wunderkammern of
literary teratism, cataloguing the scientific exceptions to
the given noms of poetry in order to create an absurd
museum of " jurassic" machines.
Just as the anachronism of
an iron tool from before the Ice Age might disrupt our sense
of temporal security, so also might such an archive of
anomaly recontextualize the given canon of modern poetry.
Let us imagine a future for such an impossible philosophy.
Notes to Preface
l~eschler observes that , because the M~otis
lucifuaus is a hoax, while the Meaaloponera foetens is a
fact, "[tlhe Jurassic infects its visitor with doubts--
little curlicues of misgiving--that proceed to infest
all[ ...] other dealings with the Culturally Sacrosanct" (40).
2~he Jurassic Park of Crichton, for example,
dramatizes a 'pataphysical domain, in which a science of
operative risks (chaotic mathematics) indicts a science of
irnperative tasks (genetic engineering) for practising
clever truth with wanton power.
'~urassic technology demolishes the rnernory of the
museum so that the museum can no longer function properly as
a mausoleum for what has otherwise been forgotten:
we do not remember what exists in the past so much as
remember that the past itself does not exist.
- '~r~stallo~ra~hy strives to achieve a state of
"birefrigence," offering two perspectives at the same time
from the focal point of a single lens, if not from the acute
angle of a poetic word:
in other words, lucid writing does
not transmit so much as diffract a given meaning.
'vaneigeln must admit that , when active rather than
passive, such nihilism does evoke revolutionary sensibilities:
"Nietzsche's[ ...] ironyL.1, Jarry's Umour[ ...]--
these are some of the impulses[ ...] investing human con-
sciousness with[ . . . ]a true reversa1 of perspective" ( 177 ) .
TABLE OF CONTENTS
iv - v
vi - xiv
Science and Poetry:
The Poetics of the Ur in 'Pataphysics
The Poetics of an Imaginary Science
A 'Pataphysics of Machinic Exception
A 'Pataphysics of Mathetic Exception
Canadian " Pataphysics :
A 'Pataphysics of Mnemonic Exception
Science and Poetrs:
The Differend of the Ur in 'Pata~hvsics
nNon cum vacaveris, ~atavhssicandum est."
"[TJhe encyclopaedia said:
For one of these
pnostics, the visible universe was aQ
illusion or (more ~recisels) a sophism."
(Borges 1983: 8)
"The debt that ['Ipataphysics owes to sophism
cannot be overstated." (Bernstein 1994:105)
Borges in Tlh, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius imagines an
allegory about the seductions of simulation.
A secret cabal
of rebel artists has conspired to replace the actual world,
piece by piece, with a virtual world, so that the inertia of
a true history vanishes, phase by phase, into the amnesia of
a false memory.
The irony is that this conspiracy meets
with no resistance:
lq[a]lmost immediately, reality yielded
on more than one account" for "[tlhe truth is that it longed
to yield" (1983:22)--to disappear into its own phantasms.
Al1 things embrace the weirdness of this astonishing event
and ignore the piousness of al1 admonishing truth. The
event foments a revolution in philosophy--a shift away from
the nomic study of what is veritable to a ludic study of
what is possible, as if "every philosophy is by definition a
dialectical game, a Philosophie des Als Ob" (14).
Borges imagines a reality where to imagine a reality
can cause a reality to exist ex nihilo. Each memory of an
object conjures the miracle of an hdn, the replica of a
replica; and yet, " [s] tranger and more pure than any hrh
is, at times, the u" (an ectype without prototype), "the
object produced through suggestion, educed by hope"
(1983: 18) .' Like the tihistas who believe that
"metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature" ( 14), the
narrator of this fantasy pretends to believe in such an
imaginary philosophy, quoting fictitious references to it in
gazettes and treatises. His alternative to metaphysics is
itself an ur because his dream of it has indeed corne true,
not only in his story but also in our world. We too fulfill
this apocalyptic conspiracy by creating, for ourselves, a
world where fantasy has more reality than reality itself.
Postmodernism in fact defines itself in terms of such a
Philosophy has everywhere begun to threaten
the constraints of both the real and the true in order to
practice an anti-philosophp-what Jarry might call by the
name of '~ataahssics, the science of imaginary solutions and
arbitrary exceptions (1965:192).
Jarry suggests through
'pataphysics that reality does not exist, except as the
interpretive projection of a phenomenal perspective-which
is to say that reality is never as it is, but is always es
if it is. Reality is quasi, pseudo:
it is more virtual
than actual; it is real only to the degree to which it can
seem to be real and only for so long as it can be made to
Science for such a reality has increasingly
become what Vaihinger might call a "philosophy of as if"
(xvii), wilfully mistaking possibilities for veritabilities.
Baudrillard observes that, for the "[']Pataphysics of
the year 2000," history has accelerated past the escape
velocity for reality, moving from the centrifuga1 gravity of
the real into the centripetal celerity of the void
(1994a:l). Events occur in the nullspace of simulation,
where "[al11 metaphysical tension has been disaipated,
yielding- a 'pataphysical ambiancet' (1990: 71 ) . Things
succumb to relativity, complexity, and uncertainty, shifting
from an absolute state of determinism to a dissolute field
The science of 'pataphysics responds to
these sbsurdities with a genre of science fiction that shows
science itself to be a fiction.
It nsrrates not what is,
ut what miaht have become.
It inhabits the tense of the
future perfect, of the post modo--a
in which what has yet to happen has already taken place.
The U r of Science
Jarry claims that 'pataphysics studies "the universe
supplementary to this one," but not simply an adjunct
reality s o much as an ersatz reality, "a universe which can
bel ...] envisaged in the place of the traditional one"
1965:131) Such a supplement is always more substitutive
than augmentative, replacing reality instead of accent ing
reality, and ironically the science that studies auch a
supplement is itself a supplement.
It is "the science of
that which is superinduced upon metaphysicsl' as both an
excess and a redress, "extending as far beyond metaphysics
as the latter extends beyond physics" ( 131 ) . An auxiliary
substitute that compensates for a lack in philosophy even as
it impregnates the form of philosophy, such a science
simulates knowledge , perpetrating a hoax, really and truly ,
but only to reveal the hoax of both the real and the true.
Jarry performs humorously on behalf of literature what
Nietzsche performs seriously on behalf of philosophy.
thinkers in effect attempt to dream up a gay science, whose
joie de vivre thrives wherever the tyranny of truth has
increased our esteem for the lie and wherever the tyranny of
reason has increased our esteem for the mad.
lay the groundwork for an anti-philosophy, whose spirit of
ref orm bas corne to characterize such alternatives to
metaphysics as the grammatology of Derrida, the
schizanalysis of Deleuze, or the homeorrhetics of Serres.
Al1 such anti-metaphysical meta-philosophies argue that
anomalies extrinsic to a system remain secretly intrinsic to
such a system. The most credible of truths always evolves
£rom the most incredible of errors.
The praxis of science
always involves the parspraxis of poetry.
'Pataphysics, "the science of the particular" (131),
does not, therefore, study the rules governing the general
recurrence of a periodic incident (the ex~ected case) so
much as study the garnes governing the special occurrence of
a sporadic accident (the excepted case).
only studies exception, but has itself become an exception--
dismissed and neglected despite its influence and relevance .
Jarry has not only inspired the absurdity of nearly every
modern avant-garde, but has also predicted the absurdity of
nearly al1 modern techno-science.
No history, however, has
ever traced in detail this unorthodox genealogy, even though
contemporary philosophy has begun to shift its emphasis from
the metaphysical to the anti-metaphysical-a
trend that only
a few critics (Dufresne, McCaffery, etc.) have dared to
describe as 'pataphysical in nature.
'Pataphysics bas ultimately determined the horizon of
thought for any encounter between philosophy and literature,
but criticism has lasgely ignored this important principle
of the postmodern condition. What irony: 'pataphysics has
replaced metaphysics so slowly and subtly that, once
noticed, the transition seems at once sudden and abrupt.
This survey therefore intends to redress the surprise of
such smnesia by revising the history of both science and
poetry in order to bring 'pataphysics to bear upon
Such revision, of course, faces
obstacles, not the least of which is the fact that
'pataphysics is imaginary. No such discipline exists. What
then is there to study What museums can house its relies
What codexes can record its axioms
Such a science may be
no more than an =--a
last hope that has yet to corne true.
'Pataphysics does not pretend to unify its parts into a
system or to ratify its ploys into an agenda.
Such a cesual
science has no theory, no method (even though Jarry has
since inspired writers to create the College of
'Pataphysics, aspects of which allude to a fictional
archive, the Grand Academy of Lagado). Such a casual
science also has no manual, no primer (even though Jarry has
since inspired critics to study the Elements of
'Pataphysics, excerpts of which appear in a fictional
almanac, the Exploits of Doctor Faustroll). Like the
abridged treatise on Tlb, the incomplete handbook of Jarry
compels its readers to finish the job of converting the fake
image of a virtual science into a real thing in the actual
universe. Even this survey may not explain the existence of
'pataphysics so much as conjure 'pataphysics into existence.
Jarry implies that such a science can be written only
with an invisible ink, "sulphate of quinine," whose words
remain unseen until read in the dark under the "infrared
rays of a spectrum whose other colors [are] locked in an
opaque box" (191-192).
Such a science cannot be seen except
under a light that cannot be seen in a place that cannot be
Such a science exists paradoxically in an eigenstate
of indeterminate potentiality (like the cat of Schrodinger--
both there and not there at the same time).
but philosophastry, such a science at first appears
scandalous and superfluous because it delights in the
eclectic and the esoteric. It encourages a promiscuous
economy of indiscriminate exchanges, playfully conjugating
paradoxes in order to make possible an absolute expenditure
of thought without any absolute investiture in thought.
'Pataphysics thus heralds apocalyptically what
Baudrillard calls a "casual form of writing to match the
of our ageW--a spiralling commentary
upon "the Grande Gidouille of History" (1994e:17). This
survey attempts to practice such a writing of history in the
belief that theory must explore as much as it must explain.
To do otherwise is to reduce the science of 'pataphysics to
another species of hermeneutics:
just a way to resd, not a
way to live.
To write against metaphysics, with its good
sense and its good taste, is not to shirk the duties of the
critic, but to wager their values against the demand for
change. If we are to take 'pataphysics seriously, are we
not obliged to be exceptional If this survey threatens to
meander, is this not because it imitates the vortices of a
pidouille in order to maintain an element of surprise
Surprise breaks the promise of the expected: it is the
exception that disturbs the suspense of what we know must
Hence, this survey offers the following
itinerary about things to corne in the hope that we might
later be surprised by the unexpected.
This survey begins by
tracing the history of the conflict between science and
poetry in order to contextualize 'pataphysics within the
four phases of such dispute (the animatismic, the
mechanismic, the oraanismic, and the cvborganismicl. The
survey then discusses 'pataphysics itself, defining three
declensions of exception (the anomalos, the syzsaia, and the
clinamen), in order to show the diverse parallels not only
between the work of Jarry and Nietzsche, but also to relate
such work to the diverse projects of such contemporary
philosophers as Baudrillard, Derrida, Deleuze, and Serres.
Subsequently, the survey traces the influence of Jarry
on three cases of avant-garde pseudo-science (the Italian
Futurists, the French Oulipians, and the Canadian
"Pataphysicians). Each movement revises a prior schema
about the structure of exception in order to disrupt the
norrnalization of the 'pataphysical: for the Futurists,
exception results from the collision of machines; for the
Oulipians, exception results from the constraint of
programs; and for the "Pataphysicians, exception results
from the corruption of mernories.
Like these movements, this
survey also tries to avoid the normalization of the
'pataphysical, doing so by alluding intermittently to
'pataphysical enterprises that do not refer to the tradition
of Jarry, but nevertheless represent some of the exceptions
to the genealogy that this survey posits.
Exceptions, after all, can resort to an assortment of
variance (anomalos), alliance (sszvgia), or
deviance (clinamen). The anomalos finds a way to differ
from every other thing in a system that values the norm of
equivalence; the svzsaia finds a way to equate things to
each other in a system that values the norm of difference;
and the clinamen finds a way to to detour around things in a
system that values the fate of contrivance.
Al1 three modes
of exception do inform this survey on 'pataphysics so that,
if its style risks everything to disrupt, to confuse, and to
digress, it does so not for any lack of forma1 rigour, but
for the sake of a crucial thesis. Can a ludic theory of
'pataphysics be fairly judged by the nomic values of
metaphysics if 'pataphysics criticizes metaphysics itself
Are we not obliged to consider the problem of this question
' Pataphysics , strangely enough, has two parallel
histories that act out opposite strategies for criticizing
such a scientific metaphysics: first, the irrationalism of
the Symbolists, the Dadaists, and the Surrealists (al1 of
whom argue for a poetic emancipation from science); second,
the surrationalism of the Futurists, the Oulipians, and the
"Pataphysicians (al1 of whom argue for a poetic
appropriation of science).
Jarry has influenced both
strategies despite their opposition.
The Futurists attack
the Symbolists, for example, just as the Oulipians attack
the Surrealists. Both cases of conflict pit the pragmatic
formalism of postrnodernity against the aesthetic mysticism
of rnodernity. What is at stake is the status of poetry in a
world of science. How rnight poetry reclaim its own viable
truth Hou might science benefit from its own poetic irony
Surrationalism, for example, responds to such questions
not only by using the forms of poetry to criticize the myths
of science (its pedantic theories of expressive truth), but
also by using the forms of science to criticize the myths of
poetry (its romantic theories of expressive genius).
Surrationalism has accented this conflict between science
and poetry in three different ways.
The Futurists inflect
the machinic intensities of technological forms; the
Oulipians inflect the mathetic intensities of numerological
forms; and the "Pataphysicians inflect the mnemonic
intensities of palaeological forms. This survey focuses
largely upon these three surrational movements not only
because -they have better expressed the original intentions
of 'pataphysics, but also because they have received less
critical attention from theoreticians.
Surrationalism is thus just as exceptional as it is
'pataphysical, defining a regime for the avant-garde, not
only in poetry, but also in science.
that al1 scientific radicalisrn begins with "an e~oche, a
placing of reality between parentheses" (28) so that science
might systematically explore an otherwise impossible
"it is in this area of dialectical
surrationalism that the scientific mind dreams" (32). Every
question about what if leads to a science of as if.
longer limited by one case of nature, science can propose
many modes of reason:
for example, the non-Euclidean
geometry of Riemann or the non-Boolean algebra of Korzybski.
We see science interrogate itself in order to relativize
It can no longer take its reality for granted, but
must account for its history:
the reason of its reason.
Baudrillard suggests that, while metaphysics is the
anti of simulation (opposing fantasy with ever more
reality), 'pataphysics is the ante of simulation (opposing
fantasy with ever more fantasy) : "only a 1 ' l~ata~hvsics of
simulacra can remove us £rom the[. ..lstrategy of simulation
and the impasse of death in which it imprisons us," and
"[t]his supreme ruse of the system[. ..], only a superior
ruse can stop" (1994b:153-154).
Metaphysics is a supreme
ruse because it makes us believe in the true; 'pataphysics
is a superior ruse because it lets us pretend to be untrue.
Truth implodes upon itself and reveals an aporia at its
centre--the "[dlead point[ ...] where every system crosses
this subtle limit of[ .,.] contradiction [....]and enters live
into non-contradictionw--the ecstasy of thought:
begins a ['lpataphysics of systems" (1990:14).
The Ur of Historv
with a swerve.
let us digress for a moment; let us begin
Ubu, the "Professor of ['lpataphysics,"
steps on stage at the turn of the century in order to
announce "a branch of science which we have invented and for
which a crying need is generally experienced" (1965:26-27).
An imaginary science thus makes its debut in a millenary
instant, appearing at the transition from a romantic era to
a modernist era, when metaphysics has totalized, but not yet
optimized, its power to speak the truth.
If poetry has
failed to oppose science by being its antonymic extreme,
then perhaps poetry c m attempt to oppose science by being
its hyperbolic extreme.
An absurd science that might
dissect contradictions, has itself enacted contradictions.
It has simultaneously affirmed and negated, not only its
belief in, but also its doubts about, the values of reason.
Science has historically legitimated itself by
practicing a contemvtus historia.
Theories in the past that
differ from theories in the present must forfeit their
History becomes nothing more than what Canguilhem
might cal1 le ~assdk~sssd ( 27 ) , a museum of error, where
time can cause any concept to becorne as quaint as a
Whenever science deigns to think its history, it
narrates a transition from the falsity of poetry to the
verity of science, even though history sees science, not as
the progress to truth, but as the congress of truth--a
quorum of dispute, where the right to speak the truth is
itself at stake.
The surrationalism of 'pataphysics might
pursue this line of reasoning in order to suggest that in
fact science replaces its errors not with other errata, but
with other errors, each one more subtle than the last one.
Science errs when it sees its history as a consecutive
process of both accumulation and amelioration.
the history of the term "physical," from the discourse of
Aristotle (phsçikos), through the discourse of Bacon
(phvsica), to the discourse of Heisenberg (phusics), science
often presumes not only that each discourse is the nascent
form of the next discourse, but also that each discourse is
a variant form of the same discourse: scientie. The word
science," however, does not designate the coherent progress
of one rational practice, but instead signifies an unstable
array of logical tactics, whose local, synergistic conflict
can invoke, provoke, and revoke a global, syllogistic
deduction through dialectics (for Aristotle);
jnduction through empiricism (for Bacon); and abduction
through statistics (for Heisenberg).
'Pataphysics reveals that, like poetry, science has an
avant-garde with its own history of dissent. What Deleuze
and Guattari might cal1 the roval sciences of efficient
productivity have historically repressed and exploited the
nomad sciences of expedient adaptability ( 1987: 362)
royal science is a standardized rnetaphysics:
it is deployed
by the state throughout a clathrate, Cartesian space,
putting truth to work on behalf of solid, instrumental
imperatives (law and order).
A nomad science is a
it is deployed against the state
throughout an aggregate, Riemannian space, putting truth &
risk on behalf of fluid, experimental operatives (trial and
Such scientific economies are contrastive, but not
exclusive. They transect at many points acrose many scales,
each one immanent in the other, like a postponed potential.
Royal sciences value the renovation of what Kuhn calls
a paradiam (1970:10), a nomic language-game that must
systematically (im)prove its own consistency and efficiency
by solving problems, yevokinfi anomsly for the sake of what
is normal and known.'
Nomad sciences, however, value the
innovation of what tyotard calls a paralo~~
ludic language-game that must systematically (ap)prove its
own inconsistency and inefficiency by convolving problems,
invokinq anomaly for the sake of what is abnormal and
These two economies do not oppose each other so
much as enfold each other.
They inflect opposite values of
intent within a composite system of truth.
A failure in one
language-game played according to one set of rules always
determines the rules of success for a new language-game
played according to a new set of rules.
'Pataphysics no doubt defines the rubric for this kind
of nomadic paralogy.
Itinerant and sophistic, al1 such
surrationalism reveals that science, like poetry, changes
only when it deploys what Shklovsky might cal1 a tactic of
ostranenie, of estrangement (12).
may be nothing more than metaphoric revolutions, in which
autotelic novelties foreground the dramatization of a system
in order to undermine the autornatization of its reason.
Paradigm shifts reveal that every axiology secretly involves
a reductio ad absurdum--the anomaly of an irresistible, but
The aporia of such a system arises
paradoxically from the rigour of its logic--as if its
success also means its failure.
The sudden triumph of
'pataphysics thus does not imply the utter defeat of
metaphysics so much as the pyrrhic victory of metaphysics.
Lyotard observes that, because science creates a method
by which to correct the errors that it detects in its
method, science is "a process of delegitimation fueled by
the demand for legitimation itself" (1984:39).
by a paradigm against contradiction in the paradigm causes
the paradigm to exclude, as extrinsic from it, a paralogy
intrinsic to it: " science--by concerning itself with such
things as undecidab1esl.J--is
theorizing its own evolution
as[ ...]p aradoxical" (60).
Ironically, the system that
yearns to validate itself, only learns to invalidate itself.
No longer does science rationalize its truth so much as
relativize its truth.
We adopt "a model of legitimation
that has nothing to do with maximized performance" (60), but
rather implies "a model of an 'open system, ' in which a
statement becomes relevant if it 'generates ideas'" (64).
Science graphs a rhizomatic f lowchart of stratif ied
trajectories, an agonistic forcef ield of diversified
catastrophes, some of which collide with each other, some of
which collude with each other, al1 of which operate together
simultaneously in fits and starts at asynchronous rates of
Science is a complex tissue of
hybrid tensions, its metaphors not only reflectinq each
other, but also refracting each other. They facilitate
changes to aa economy of exchanges by accentuating al1 the
unforeseen instabilities in scientific signification. Like
poetry, science is a bricolage of figures, an assemblage of
devices, none of which fit together perfectly--but unlike
poetry, science must nevertheless subject its tropes to a
system, whose imperatives of both verity and reality
normally forbid any willing suspension of disbelief.
Science and poetry have shared a common history,
undergoing four phases of distinct change (the anirnatismic,
the mechanismic, the organismic, and the cyborganismic);
nevertheless, the two disciplines have not evolved in tandem
or in synch.
Foucault observes, for example, that science
and poetry have evolved opposite relations to the authorial
science moves toward anonymity;
poetry moves toward eponymity. The absence of the author in
science serves an allotelic interest (justifying itself for
the sake-of a finality outside of its own language), while
the presence of the author in poetry serves an autotelic
interest (justifying itself for the sake of a finality
inside of its own language). Whenever science gains the
anonymous power to speak the truth about things, poetry
seeks an eponymous refuge in the space of its own words.
Allotelic interests have always regarded autotelic
interests as a waste of time, particularly in a capitalist
economy where only the most effective arsenal of productive
tactics can prevail.
1s it any wonder then that, for such
imperial cynicism, science and poetry function within a
relation, not of genre, but of power The waxing influence
of science has always implied the waning relevance of
poetry--as if science must capitalize upon the competition
for truth in order to monopolize the legitimation of truth.
The science of 'pataphysics, however, expresses on behalf of
poetry what the metaphysics of science represses in itself:
its own basis in signs, their errors and biases--the
ideology of metaphor.
The autotelic aspect of science (its
ludic surrationalism) always threatens to radicalize the
allotelic agenda of science (its nomic rationalism).
Althusser argues that, although ideology always
involves a denegation of itself so thst subjects produced by
it cannot recognize themselves within it, the allotelic
anonymity of science means that the clarity of its language
can nevertheless negate ideology, yet successfully remain
"ideology has no outside (for itself), but at
the same tirne[ ...] it is nothina but outside (for science
[...])" (175). Barthes disagrees, however, arguing that
science is never neutral.
Instead, science interpellates
its subject as an absence--a vanishing point, projected
within ideology as though beyond ideology:
excludes himself in a concern for objectivity; yet what is
excluded is never anything but the 'person'[...],
subject; moreover, this subject is filled[..,]with the very
exclusion it[ ...] imposes upon its person" (8).
Barthes suggests that science differs from poetry, not
because of any disparity between them in format, content,
method, or intent, but becaüse of a disparity between them
in statusœ-a prestige of pedagogy (3). Whereas poetry has
always offered an egalitarian regime, destabilizing the
signifier within a generalized economy of polysemic
enunciation, science has only offered a totalitarian regime,
stabilizing the si~nified within a restricted economy of
For Barthes, science must begin to
acknowledge its ideological investments, radicalizing itself
by poeticizing itself.
If ideology is the unreal
conciliation of a real contradiction, is it not fair to Say
that ideology is itself an imaginary solution--and therefore
If metaphysics must study the ontology of
truth, must not 'pataphysics study the ideology of power
Ultimately, the conflict between science and poetry
concerns this power to speak the truth, and this power has
undergone four phases of epistemic transition:
animatismic phase, whose truth involves interpreting signs
through an act of exegesis; the mechanismic phase, whose
truth involves disquisiting signs through an ect of
mathesis; the oraanismic phase, whose truth involves
implementing signs through an act of anamnesis; and the
cvbornanismic phase, whose truth involves deregulating signs
through an act of catamnesis. The life sciences, for
example, have progressed from the biomaav of animatism,
through the biotaxu of mechanism, through the biolo~v of
organism, to the bionics of cyborganism.
involves not only a different definition of science and
poetry, but also a different opposition between them.
During the animatismic phase, when papal academies
divide discourse scholastically into modes of textualization
and numeralization (trivium and suadrivium), knowledge is
rarefied largely because of its insufficient supply.
the mechanismic phase, when royal academies divide discourse
aristocratically into modes of investigation and
dissemination, knowledge is rarefied largely because of its
During the organismic phase, when
state academies divide discourse democratically into modes
of ratiocination and acculturation (scientia and humanitas),
knowledge is rarefied because of its specialized labour.
And during the cyborganismic phase, when state academies
divide discourse plutocratically into modes of totalization
and optimization, knowledge is rarefied largely because of
its overabundant supply*
The Animatismic Phase
Foucault observes that , bef ore empiricism, "divinatio
and eruditio are both part of the same hermeneutics"
(1973:34). Medieval trestises on natural history establish
no criterion for the condition of relevance, since such
treatises merely compile leaenda, collecting together
haphazardly al1 the randorn lore about a sample topic in
order to document the complex heraldry of its textual
"none of these forms of discourse is required to
justify its d a i m to be expressing a truth before it is
interpreted; al1 that is required of it is the possibility
of talking about it" (40). Science in its snimstismic phase
sees that signs exist long before being known:
written-into things by nature, and they extinguish the
distance between things in order to reveal the synchronie
continuum of their secret order.
Reality for the animatismic phase is a stable orrery
that revolves around a central fulcrum.
Knowing such a
eality involves an exegetic function, reading signs,
interpreting them, rearranging them within an anagram that
permutes al1 their modes of sympathy and antipathy.
anatomy of forms distributes signs aesthetically throughout
a nomad regime in which al1 things must conform to an order
of both resemblance and concordance.
Even the difference
between the reasoning of science and the imagining of poetry
does not yet exist because no paradigm provides a consensus
for such verities.
Each text has equal truthfulness. Each
myth can convey what Vico might cal1 a "poetic wisdom"
(110), whose truth owes its power to an error that demands
belief in a "credible impossibilityt' (120)--an as if that
can provide the premise in the future for a nuovo scienza. 4
Poetic wisdom simply monopolizes the totality of both
the subject and the object, leaving no space for modern
science to speak the truth for itself except as an act of
deviance within such a norm.
Poetic wisdom cannot recognize
any disparity between the subjective affect of imagining and
the objective effect of reasoning. Alchemy, for example
resorts to such poetic wisdom in order to imagine a lapis
philoso~horum that can produce a coniuntia o~~ositorum,
harmonizing the disputes among al1 such elements.
becomes a ritual of scenes in which al1 things can change
their images into each other.
The transitive category for
lead becoming gold transmutes into a redemptive allegory
about body becoming soul. The lapis ~hiloso~horum is a
thing unlike any other, but it makes things so that they are
like everything else.
Tt is the metaphor for al1 metaphor.
Donne practices the poetic wisdom of such a scenic
ritual when he deliberately misunderstands the difference
between the science of alchemy and his poetry of conceits,
inviting his reader, "As fire these drossie Rymes to
purifie,/ Or as Elixir, to change them to gold" since such a
reader is "that Alchimist which alwaies had/ W i t ,
spark could make good things of bad" (294).
a metaphor that can undergo a process of alchemy itself.
The device of the conceit reflects an alchernical rnarriage of
antongrnical extremes so that, for example, the idea of love
can be equated with any motif, no matter how absurd, be it a
drafting compass or a drinking insect.
The lapis of
alchemy, like the lexis of poetry, reveals that the figura1
is merely the alembic for the literal. The noble metal of
truth arlses from the ignoble filth of error. 5
Vico claims that just as modern science shows that "man
becomes al1 things by understanding (homo intelliaendo fit
ornnia)," so also does poetic wisdom show tbat "man becomes
al1 things by not understanding[...)(bomo
fit omnia)" (130). To understand on behalf of truth is to
be reactive, accepting the world of the as is, but to
misunderstand on behalf of error is to be creative,
inventing the world of the as if.
To be an alchemist is to
practice an aesthetic that acts as a lapis ~hiloso~horum,
transmuting the errors of alchemy (a nomad science) into the
truths of chemistry (a royal science), but ironically, this
change requires that science and poetry shift from an order
where they are unified to an order where they are divided.
A literal stone that philosophers must diligently seek
embodies a figura1 power that they must eventually deny.
Foucault argues that, during such a transition, the
"tautological world of resemblance now finds itself
dissociated and, as it were, split down the middle"
(1973:58). For Donne, such a dissociation of sensibility
implies the failure of alchemy to reconcile the imminent
conflict between the subjective affect of imagining and the
objective effect of reasoning:
"new philosophy cals al1 in
doubt" so that "The Sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's
wit/ Can well direct him, where to looke for it" (335).
The old, geocentric order of elemental synthesis regards the
conceit as the integrel epitome of al1 similes, but the new,
heliocentric order of empirical analysis regards the conceit
as the marginal extreme of al1 follies.'
Not until the
advent of 'pataphysics does the conceit, the synthesis of
opposites, regain its status as a device of poetic wisdom.
The Mechanismic Phase
Bacon observes that , before empiricism, "systems are
but so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own
creation after an unreal and scenic fashion" (1960:49).
Natural history must revoke these "Idols of the ~heater"
(49), replacing the theatrical world of scenes (the as if)
with the empirical world of senses (the as is), but this
change risks an aporia since this new mode of investigation
only ratifies a new mode of dramatization--the petit r&it
of an experiment in which an event must restage itself again
and again under the auspice of control.
are now simply traced to linguistic abuses.
Science in its
mechanismic phase sees that signs exist only by being known:
they are written ont0 things by culture, and they
distinguish the distance between things in order to invent
the synchronie continuum of their proper order.
Reality for the mechanismic phase is a stable clock
that operates within a static regimen.
Knowing such a
reality involves a mathetic function, testing signs,
disquisiting them, regimenting them within a diagram that
displays al1 their modes of identity and alterity.
taxonomy of forms distributes signs incrementally throughout
a royal regime in which al1 things must depend upon an order
of both equivalence and difference.
The evidence of
science, not the eminence of poetry, provides a consensus
for the verities of a paradigm.
Al1 texts have their
truthfulness at stake. Al1 texts must legitimate their
The truth of science fulfills such a requisite by
favourably gauging its power over the object against the
divine power of nature.
The truth of science thus aligns
its cause, its arche, with the power of a noumenal origin.
Modern science simply colonizes the alterity of the
object, leaving no space for poetic wisdom to speak the
truth about nature except through an act of alliance with
such a norm.
Poetic wisdom must adopt the values of modern
science in order to state any objective verities.
for example, argues that , poet ically
"Truth 1s never so
w d l expresç'd or amplify'd, as by those Ornaments which are
Truie1 and Real in themselves" (414).
Truth is the best
ornament because it has the least ornament--which is t o say
that science is the best poetry because it has the least
The irony here is that verse must learn its rules
of metaphor from a genre that rules out metaphor.
of science actually becomes the muse of poetry (hence the
numerous elegies to scientists, particularly N ewton, despite
the fact that science follows a principle of antipoeisis). 7
Newton berates poetry for its "ingenius nonsense" (Bush
40) even though Glover portrays him as the paragon of
poetry: "O might'st thou, ORPHEUS,
now again revive,/ And
NEWTON should inform thy list'ning ear" ([Pemberton 231).
Poetry indulges in scientific sycophancy, largely because
the gravity of force in the Princi~ia lends itself to the
idea of a poetic sublime just as the levity of light in the
Opticks lends itself to the idea of a poetic beauty. 8
Glover writes that "Newton demands the muse" (), but
soon Thomson w onders:
"How shall the Muse, then, grasp the
mighty theme," particularly "when but a few/ Of the deepstudying
race can stretch their minds/ To what he knew"
(1853:337). Science has unveiled so many universal
mysteries that, ironically, it threatens to become a poetry
of truth more sublime than the truth of poetry itself.
Poetry makes an effort to dispute this omniscience of
science (its will to power), as Swift does, for example, but
poetry cannot dispute the conscience of science (its will to
truth). While science ascends to a state of greater
complexity, becoming more abstract, theoretic, and
autocratic, poetry descends through science to a state of
greater simplicity, becoming more concrete, pragmatic, and
democratic. To keep Pace with science, poetry must shift
its focus from the sublime in the natural physics of Newton
to the poetic beauty in the natural history of Linnaeus.
As Aikin avers, the updated images of natural history must
replace the outdated tropes of poetry since "nothing can be
really beautiful which has not truth for its basis" (25).
To fulfill a didactic mandate, poetry must learn its truth
directly from the mineral, the vegetal, and the bestial. 9
Darwin, the poetic savant, follows such advice to t he
letter when he explains the botanical taxonomy of Linnaeus
by equating modes of floral procreation with modes of social
"the general design[ ...] is to inlist
Imagination under the banner of Science; and to lead her
votaries from the looser analogies, which dress[ ...]p oetry,
to the stricter ones, which form[ . . . lphilosophy" ( 1791 :v) .
Poetic pleasure submits to noetic pedagogy.
of flowers, the antholonv, so to speak, is merely the
flowery ornament for the summary document of its scientific
The poetry acts as a mere note for the notes
themselves--a pretense to plant the seeds of interest so
that the reader might in turn disseminate this information.
The poetry literally is a botanic garden, in which
germinates the romantic metaphor that poetry is organic.
The Oraanismic Phase
Coleridge observes that, after empiricism, the botanic
mode1 of science does inform a poetry of organic unity, but
contrary to Darwin, this poetic pleasure does not submit to
"[a] poem[ ...] is opposed tof. ..]science,
by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth"
(164). Wordsworth qualifies this statement by arguing that
"the knowledge of both the Poet and the Man of science is
pleasure" (456), but while poetry is an ecstatic search for
an intimate truth, science is a monastic search for an
ultimate truth--one whose discourse values an empiricism of
the senses at the expense of their sensualism.
its organismic phase sees that signs evolve by being known:
they are written across events by culture, and they
distinguish the interval between events in order to direct
the diachronic continuum of their normal order.
Reality for the organismic phase is a simple engine
that generates a stable dynarnic.
Knowing such a reality
involves an anemnestic function, working signs, implementing
them, redeploying them within a program that displays al1
their modes of function and relation. Such an economy of
forms distributes its signs pragmatically thoughout a royal
regime in which al1 things must depend upon an order of both
productivity and applicability.
Not only the evidence of
science, but also the progress of science, provides a
consensus for the verities of a paradigm.
Al1 texts have
their usefulness at stake. Al1 texts must legitimate their
The truth of science fuifills such a requisite by
favourably gauging i L s power over the subject against the
humane power of culture. The truth of science thus aligns
its effect, its telos, with the power of a noumenal motive.
Modern science simply colonizes the identity of the
subject, leaving no space for poetic wisdom to speak the
truth about culture except through an act of defiance
against such a norm.
Poetic wisdom must evict the values of
modern science in order to state any subjective verities.
Hence, Keats condemns Newton for the "cold philosophy" that
must "Conquer al1 mysteries by rule and line" (226) just as
Blake condemns Newton for the "Reasonings like vast
Serpents" that must hang their "iron scourges over Albion"
(16). Such reasoning that allegedly discredits imagining
only creates an undead truth, an Ur-Frankenstein that, for
Wordsworth, must await a poetic rebirth:
"the Poet will
lend his divine spirit to aid in the transfiguration" when
"science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put
on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood" (456) .Io
Wordsworth claims t hat "[tlhe remotest discoveries of
the Chemist, the Botanist, or Mineralogist, will be as
proper objects of the ~oet's art[. ..] if the time should ever
corne when these things shall be familias to us" (456), but
in the meantime, this differend has no terms for consensus.
Poetry indulges in scientific controversy, largely because
the schisrn between reasoning and imagining has begun to
reflect the anomie of poetic labour.
For Huxley, such
labour cannot compete with the capital values of utility
poetry must warrant a Benthamite rejection--
but for Arnold, such labour does reflect upon the communal
values of liberty (1889:llZ)--which is to say, the reasoning
of science can teach what is real and true, but only the
imagining of poetry can teach what is fine and just.
Schlegel writes that poetry must redeem science in the
belief that "al1 art should become science and al1 science
Poetry must become a genre of therapeutic
knowledge, creating pseudo-statements that can, according t o
Richards, detach the untruth of poetry from belief and yet
retain the beauty of such untruth in order to refine belief
Newtonian cosmology has discredited the poetic
object just as Darwinian evolution has discredited the
poetic sub ject ; therefore, poetry must henceforth resort to
the as if of an imaginary solution in order to speak its own
Poetry must ascend through science to a state of
greater complexity, becoming more abstract, theoretic, and
autocratie. Poetry must transform its scientific
radicalism, shifting its critique from an opposition
(external to science) to a subversion (interna1 to science).
'Pataphysics thus arises just before modernism begins
to wring its hands about the enigma of what Snow calls "the
Two Cultures" (2).
Huxley argues that, despite their
dispute, the two cultures resemble each other most when the
noetic clarity of reasoning and the poetic opacity of
imagining approach the sublimity of the ineffable (1963:14).
What is sublime in the pseudo of poetry can, according to
Richards, return reasoning and irnagining to an equilibrium
that resembles the tension of forces in a cloud of magnets
(15-18).ll Such an equation of antonyms revives the conceit
as a sublime device not of alchernical marriage, but of
scientific synthesis; hence, Eliot can equate poetry with a
platinum catalyst that fuses oxygen and sulphur without
changing-itself: "[ilt is in this depersonalization that
art may be said to approach the condition of science" (7). 12
The Csbor~anismic Phase
Barthes observes that, after modernism, science can no
longer stabilize its object within an allotelic economy of
monosemic reference, but must, like poetry, criticize its
method within an autotelic economy of polysemic existence:
"science speeks itself; literature writes itself[...]:
is not the same body, and hence the same desire, which is
behind the one and the other" (5); nevertheless, "science
will becorne literature, insofar as literature [ . . . ] is
alreadyr. ..]sciencew (IO), only when science can see that
its own truth exists not outside of language, but only
because of language. Science in its cyborganismic phase
sees that signs evolve beyond being known:
they are written
as events by culture, and they extinguish the interval
between events in order to create the synchronic
discontinuum of their random order,
Reality for the cyborganismic phase is a complex matrix
that cornputes a mobile dynamic.
Knowing such a reality
involves a catamnestic function, playing signs,
deregulating them, recombining them within a hologram that
displays-al1 their modes of seduction and simulation.
a synonymy of forms distributes its signs excrementally
throughout a nomad regime in which al1 things must depend
upon an order of virtuosity and virtuality.
Al1 texts have
their artfulness at stake.
Al1 texts must legitimate not
only their reasons (be they in the origin or in the result),
but the reason for these reasons. The truth of science can
no longer fulfill such a requisite by favourably gauging its
power against the metaphysics of either an arche or a telos,
but only against the 'pataphysics of an exceptional
it an aporia, a chissm, or a swerve*
Modern science simply mono.polizes the totality of both
the subject and the object, leaving no space for poetic
wisdom to speak the truth for itself except as an act of
deviance within such a norm. Modern science can no longer
stabilize the disparity between the subjective affect of
imagining and the objective effect of reasoning.
of 'patsphysics signals the first attempts to subvert this
agenda from within its own limits. The science of
'pataphysics inspires a literary tradition that has in turn
begun to regard itself as s response to science with an
outcome to be studied by a science, be it formalist,
structural, semiologic , or cybernetic . l3
The ' pataphysical
fundamentsls of surrationalism have in turn provided the
aesthetic parallel for the dialectic sophistry of almost al1
Baudrillard suggests that, "a century after Jarry, but
in a cool universe without irony, and without 'pataphysical
acid," science has so inflated the fund of information that
the excesses of such metastasis evoke the flidouille of Ubu:
"['p]ataphysics or metaphysics, this pregnancyr ...] is one of
the strangest signs[ ...] of this spectral environment where
each ce11 (each function, each structure), is left with the
possibility, as in cancer, [...]of multiplying indefinitely"
(1990:28). Science is a tautological extravagance, for
which Ubu, "a figure of genius, replete with that which has
absorbed everything, transgressed everything, [... Iradiates
in the void like an imaginary solution" (71).
functions in what Jarry might cal1 an economy of phvnance
(1969:43), expending without investing, producing pschitt or
merdre--an ironic eponym for "excess" with an excess letter.
Baudrillard suggests that, for such an economy of
science, the threat of the unreal haunts every system of
verity since the methods of physics can no longer confirm
whether or not reality itself is a fsntasy:
be the [']pataphysics[ ...] that lies in wait for al1 physics
at its inadmissible limitstt (1990:85). Has not physics
already started to resemble a science of imaginary
solutions, what with its particle zoo of new paradoxes (the
amphibolies of psrticles, the metaleptics of causality) Do
we not see a hint of 'pataphysics in the strsngeness gf
anti-matter, black-holes, and time-travel (the theories of
which have already fomented philosophical apprehensions
about the existence of existence itself) In the face of
such scientific absurdities, poetry has responded by
portraying itsel f as a literalized experiment .
Prigogine and Stengers observe that, for such an
episteme, "science occupies a peculiar position, that of a
poetical interrogation of nature, in the etymological sense
that the poet is a 'makerY--active," inventing the world
post facto while observing the world a priori (301).
Science has finally achieved the hyperbole of its own
"death," so to speak, disappearing into a condition of
tautologic metalepsis, paradoxically becoming both the cause
and effect of its own virtual reality.
Science has begun to
fulfill the simulacral precession that, for Baudrillard,
defines the 'pataphysics of a postmodern philosophy.
Genosko suggests, "[i]t is surely a ['Jpataphysical accident
that death is for Baudrillard the very[. ..]gesture which
pushes the tautologies of the system over the edge, with a
belly laugh of symbolic proportions" ( 116).
Feyerabend argues that, for science to progress, the
nomic truth of the as is must induce an escape to the ludic
space of an as if: "we need a dream-world in order to
discover the f eatures of the real world[ . . . Iwhich may
actually be just another dream-world" (32). Science in such
a Traumwelt adopts not the terrorism of unified theories,
but the anarchism of ramified theories--"[t]he only
principle that does not inhibit progress is:
(23). Such a principle does not encode a laissez-faire
economy (whose Darwinian cornpetition requires that a royal
science discard the truth of a defunct concept as either
extinct or deviant); instead, such a principle tries to
entice a savoir-faire economy (whose Lucretian arbitration
requires that a nomad science bracket the truth of a defunct
concept as either dormant or defiant), 15
'Pataphysics dramatizes this principle of Feyerabend by
arguing that, however obsolete or indiscrete any theory
might at first appesr, every theory has the potential to
improve knowledge in s ame way.
Just as biodiversity can
make an ecology more adaptable, so also can dilettantism
make an episteme more versatile.
The process of science
muet lea-rn to place its defunct concepts into a kind of
suspended animation that preserves them for the millenary
reverie of an imaginary science. The truth diverges
throughout many truths, inducing the sophisms of dissent,
novelty, and paradox: "given any rule(...]for science,
there are always circumstances when it is advisable not only
to ignore the rule, but to adopt its opposite" (23) in order
"to make the weaker case the stronnerl...land therebv to
sustain the motion of the whole" (30).
'Pataphysics thus behaves as if it is a Philosophie des
Vaihinger observes that the phrase "as if"
constitutes a "comparative apperception" (91), juxtaposing
two concepts somewhere in the interzone between the
virtuality of a figura1 relation and the actuality of a
Neither rhetorical nor theoretical, the
as if constitutes a paradox of contingency, since reference
is made to an impossibility, but from this impossibility an
inference is made:
"reality[ ...] is com~ared with something
whose[. ..]unreality is at the same time admitted" (98). The
as if posits the possible consequences of an impossible
The as if is simply the irnaginary solution
tu the question what if. 1s not this question a deliberate
misreading that shows the real and the true to be quasi and
pseudo--free, that is, to be something else
'Pataphysics suggests that metaphysics forgets that
this operative conditional (as if) is not an imperative
conditional (if then); nevertheless, the latter relation
always resides unheard between the two words of the former
relation. The if then revokes the suspension of disbelief
in the as if so that the event must be treated as it would
be treated if it were as is. The slightness of this
difference between the as if and the if then thus marks the
slightness of the difference between truth and power.
science of 'pataphysics explores these conditionals in order
to see what might happen if science is treated as poetry and
vice versa, the philosopher studying the exceptional (be it
the anomalos, the suz~~ia, or the clinameq) in order to make
the weaker case, the stronger--almost as if to say that
ultimately such a case might be as true as ang
Notes to Chanter 1
is of course an ironic signifier w ith two
meanings that contradict each other.
Its real usage as an
adjective in German refers to an originary mode1 for
imaginary copies, but its unreal usage as a substantive in
Tlhese refers to imaginary copies wi thout any originary
The ur thus embodies a paradox of simulation, whose
structure implies that, at the origin, no origin exists, but
the dream of an origin.
No longer does the causal vector
from the real to its copy make sense since the fantasy of
the u_r does not replicate, so much as originate, reality.
'~an~uilhern observes thet "the history of science
is the history of an abject[. ..]that is a history and [that]
- has a history, whereas science is the science of an object
that is not a history [and] that has a history" (25-26).
Science ignores its history because science in its history
is no longer science* For science, truth is prescient,
always t-here before the fact of its revelation; for history,
truth is expedient, only there after the fact of its
production. The history of truth shows that a persistent
concept does not necessarily imply its consistent meaning.
'~uhn writes that "a paradigi is a criterion for
choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for
granted, can be assumed to have solutions" (1970:37). It is
a Weltanschauung with three discursive functions:
ratifies interdictions in order to define what it makes
perceivable and thereby improve its accuracy; second, it
verifies predictions in order to align the perceivable with
the conceivable and thereby improve its efficacy; and third,
it pacifies contradictions in order to define what it makes
conceivable and thereby improve its adequacy.
'~uovo scienza is a poetic wisdom that might
study poetic wisdom (and thus such a science almost appears
to preempt 'pataphysics itself). Vico, like Jarry, believes
that, because nature is an inhuman creation, we can never
know its truth; but unlike Jarry, Vico believes that,
because culture is a human creation, we can know its truth.
Jarry argues that al1 truth, be it natural or cultural, is
still an opaque mirage, never to be known. Every science,
for him; is a poetic wisdom if only because it rnust commit
at leest one error--the error of belief in truth itself,
onne ne suggests that al1 "this worlds genrall
sicknesse" ( 336) might paradoxicslly cleanse impurity itsel f
and thus "purifie/ All, by a true religious Alchimy" (334).
Metaphysics involves a christological transmutation that
purifies a supernal truth of al1 its errors; however,
'pataphysics involves an anti-christological transmutation
that purifies an infernal error of al1 its truth (as if
truth itself is the filth)-ohence, Ubu in the heraldic
allegory of Caesar Antichrist performs a reverse alchemy, in
which to rise above sin is to fa11 from grace.
'~allyn observes that , for Copernicus and Kepler,
"the world is the work of a divine poietes," and "what they
aim to reveal through their own poetics is thus
truly[ ...] the poetic structure of the world" (20). Donne
feels snxiety about such a poetic cosmos even though its
system is more aesthetic than empirical, not verified and
rectified so much as symmetrized and harmonized.
problem is that such a view radically displaces humanity,
propelling us into a regressive infinitude, a sublime
extreme without limit, be it atomic or cosmic in scale.
'~homson eulogizes Newton:
"The heavens are al1
hi6 own; from the wild rule/ Of whirling vortices and
circling s~heres,/ To their first great simplicity
restored," and "Even Light itself[...]/ Shone undiscover'd,
till his brighter rnind/ Untwisted al1 the shining robe of
Akenside, likewise, eulogizes Newton:
"The lamp of science through the jealous maze/ Of Nature
guides, when haply you reveal/ Her secret honours: [...)/
The beauteous laws of light, the central powers/ That wheel
the pensile planets round the year" ( 1825: 51-52 ) .
orce ce and light acquire aesthetic currency in an
industry that must versify the theory by Newton in order to
deify the memory of Newton.
For poets influenced by the
sublime of the Princi~ia, see William Powell Jones:
Rhetoric of Science:
A Studs of Scientific Ideas and
Irna~ery in Ei~hteenth-Centurv Enalish Poetrv (Berkeley:
University of California, 1966).
For poets influenced by
the beauty of the Opticks, see Marjorie Nicholson:
Pemands -the Muse:
Newton's 'Opticks' and the Ei~hteenth
Centurs Poets (Hamden: Archon, 1946).
'~ikin posits a didact ic hierarchy ascending f rom
the mineral to the animal, so that zoology lends itself best
to poetry, largely because beasts most closely resemble
humans and thus provide a larges repertoire of pedagogical
similes (34). Aikin thus contradicts himself: he argues
that poetry must use science to reject the past of culture
and depict nature directly, but then he argues that poetry
must use science to reject a part of nature and depict
Poetry must imitate a facet of the
natural that most imitates the realm of the cultural.
l0wordsworth posits a dualist paradox when he
deploys this animatismic tropology-for
although science is
an inanimate body of knowledge, it has no flesh, no corpus,
and is thus a body without a body, yet this insensate,
incorporeal form of knowledge is not a soul, because it has
no breath, no animus, and is thus a soul without a soul.
Science, like the Monster in Frankenstein, is a morbid
figure for the corruption of simulation.
that science, not poetry, is the replica of an error that
threatens to replace the truth of the origin.
llFtichards argues that poetic wisdom is s brownian
movement: "Suppose that[ ...] we carry an arrangement of msny
magnetic needles, large and small, swung so that they
influence one another, some able only to swing horizontally,
others vertically, others hung freely[.. ..]
disequilibriumf ...] corresponds to a need; and the wagglings
which ensue as the system rearranges itself are our
responses[ ....] Sometimes the poem is itseif the influence
which disturbs us, sometimes it is merely the means by which
an already existing disturbance can right it~elf.'~ (15-18)
12~liot argues that poetic wisdom is a chernical
"When the two gases[. ..]are mixed in the presence
of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid.
combination takes place only if the platinum is present;
nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of
platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected;
has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the
poet is the shred of platinum[. ...] [Tlhe more perfect the
artist, -the more completely separate in him will be the man
who suf fers and the mind which creates" ( 7-8 ) .
"~aulson has provided one of the most
theoretically comprehensive surveys of such sciences when he
plots the epistemic transition from the organismic paradigm
of literature to the cyborganisrnic paralogy of information:
"[ais science disqualifies the medium through which we have
experienced and spoken the world, language and culture as we
have known them are swept away at an astonishing rate" so
that, "[ilf we want to preserve something of our
subjectivityl ... 1, then we must open Our texts to the
new[ ,.. ]noises of science" (52).
"~audrillard implies that , as a " [ ' plataphysician
at twenty" (l996a:83), he derives much of his irony from a
scientific vocabulary--particularly when he indulges in his
own hyperbole of molecular metaphors, be they quantum,
fractal, genetic, etc.
Genosko remarks that, for
Baudrillard, such language does not evoke the rhetorical
equivalent of scientific legitimation; instead, the nomad
value of these modifiers rises in indirect relation to their
absence -of meaning:
they constitute a "science fiction
practised in the service of the symbolic" (106).
"NO idea is ever examined in
al1 its ramifications and no view is ever given al1 the
chances [thst] it deserves" (49) for "[tlheories are
abandoned and superseded by more fashionable accounts long
before they have had an opportunity to show their virtues"
(40). Voodoo, for example, offers science an insight into
(heretofore unknown) aspects of pharmacology even though the
practice of voodoo ignores al1 theories of science. We
might thus imagine that al1 absurd concepts merely await the
proper context for their errors to be redeemed as truths.
Millenial 'Patavhssics: The Poetics of an Imaninarv Science
"[Al11 science is analysis rather than
literature, is it not"
"Joan was guizzical, studied 'pataphysical
science in the home, late nights al1 alone
with a test-tube." (Lennon, McCartney 1970)
"[Tlhe mind is a ['lpataphysical camera[ ....]
Set the[...]shutter speed to l/infinity
in order to catch the universal everlasting
The Millenary Problem
'Pataphysics has so far proven daunting to critics
because of its academic frivolity and hermetic perversity;
consequently, critics have often defined 'pataphysics as
more problematic than theorematic, reading Jarry only by
focussing on the dramaturgy of his life, not on the
philosophy of his work-as
if how he lived is more artful
than what he wrote.
Few critics have recognized that, far
from simply being the idiolect of an alcoholic, 'pataphysics
is a surrational perspective that hss had an extensive, yet
f orgotten, influence upon the canonic history of radical
Few critics have recognized that 'petaphysics
actually informs the innovation of the postmodern.
does this avant-garde pseudo-science valourize whatever is
exceptional and paralogical; it also sets the parameters for
the contemporary relationship between science and poetry.
Jarry may precede the French word 'pataphusique with an
apostrophe in order to avoid punning, but ironically his
neologism is still polysemic, since the French idiom for the
English word "flair," Ja patte (the band, or "paw," of the
artist) appears in the homophonic phrase patte & physique--
the flair of physics:
Ubu, for example, is a slapstick
comedian (pataud physique) of unhealthy obesity (pateux
physique), whose bodily language (patois physique) fomenta
an astounded physics (gpatge phvsique) that is not your
physics (pas ta physique).
The apostrophe denotes that,
while wordplay in the sciences is absent by edict, it is
still present by proxy, since even truth is a language-game
that carr never efface its statua as a language-game. As
Torma avers: "Ttlhe word true means ~recisely no th in^ here
and succumbs under a f ' l ~ata~h~sical ~aw-swipe" (Hale 145 ) .
Jarry argues that, for 'pataphysics, reality does not
exist, except as an as if, a comparative apperception, in
which a 'pataphysician, might conjure a reality to explore--
almost as if "[tlhe world was simply an immense ship"
(1989:103)--a sieve perhaps, with a 'pataphysician at the
helm. Baudrillard argues that, for "Jarryites," al1 such
denials of reality (including those now cited in quantum
physics) entai1 a fantasy about the omnipotence of thought--
its power to dream events into being, to change the world
through the ur of simulation (1990:80)e
suggests when explicating 'pataphysics:
mendacityl ...) is the vitality of articulation which carries
its own positive implications: that al1 events are capable
of alteration, that a lie attacks language at its weakest
fabricative point: reality itself" (1986:200).
'Pataphysics uses such sophistic reasoning in order to
suggest that the ability of science to repeat its results,
to foment new advances, is fortuitous, since it is
gratuitous, given that no necessity determines whether or
not reality has to be representable or even comprehensible
to any viewpoint.
Sandomir, for example, adopts this stance
when he suggests that, because "Existence has no more reason
to exist than reason has to exist" and because "the
manifestations of existence are aberrant and their necessity
entirely contingent," a 'pataphysician might easily argue
that "'Pataphysics precedes Existence" (1960d:170) insofar
as such a science creates in advance the reality that it
For Jarry, science is nothing more than a
tautological recursiveness that only finds what it seeks:
reality that proves itself to be both existent and rational.
A Scizntific Classicism
Initially lampooning the curriculum of the physics
master père ~kbert at the ~ ~ c de k e Rennes, 'pataphysics
subsequently evolves in a fragmentary manner through three
political contexts of literary personae:
Ubu (who mocks the
power of a monarch); Sengle (who mocks the power of a
soldier); and Faustroll (who mocks the power of a scho1ar)--
al1 three attacking the quiddity of both the real and the
true in order to show that, when faced with relativistic
perspectives, "[ulniversal assent is [an] incomprehensible
Jarry develops this precept most
expansively in his "Neo-Scientific Novel" about Faustroll,
whose absurd voyage aboard a sieve takes him to the realm of
Ethernity, where his exploits lampoon some of the popular
science of the fin de siacle, particularly the hydrodynamic
lectures of Boys and the thermodynamic lectures of Kelvin.
Jarry parodies the discourse of such scientific
luminaries, who attempt to demonstrate the utility of
science through the dramaturgie performance of a mechanical
Rather than build operative devices for
harnessing thought (as Boys and Kelvin might do), the
'pataphysician must instead build excessive devices for
unleashing thought--devices like the uriaarv jet, which
trills music, or the robotic Sun, which churns fleme: the
former machine distorting the work of Boys, who must explain
the sonic resonation of fluid propulsion by referring to a
mechanism built from glass-tubes, rubber-sheets, and waterjets
(1959:103); the latter machine distorting the work of
Kelvin, who must explain the mechanical tropes of solar
convection by referring to a mechanism built from paddlewheels,
screw-gears, and pulley-winches (1889:379).
Jarry imagines such parodic devices in order to
sabotage the Newtonian classicism that has traditionally
characterized the epistemological differentiation between
physics and metaphysics.
Rather than subject the emergent
sciences of both hydrodynamics and thermodynamics to the
problematic determinism of a mechanical philosophy (as Boys
and Kelvin might do), Jarry attempts instead to accentuate
the surrational potentials of such physics so that what is
randorn and absurd might fulf il1 the anomalous imperat ive of
a cyborganic philosophy.
While Kelvin describes reality as
a liquid system of springs and weights, whose gyrostatic
elasticity approaches an inexorable condition of inertia
(239)' Jarry believes that the avant-garde pseudo-science of
'pataphysics can intervene in the process of such a reality
in order to perturb the entropy of its banal order.
Jarry endeavours to demonstrate that, like alchemy,
which reduces al1 scientia to an erotic system of symbolic
exchange, even the chernical sciences comprise a set of
metaphorical abstractions, each laden with its own libidinal
Jarry does not borrow scientific concepts so
much as scientific conceits, doing so in order ta imagine a
kind of "counter-dynamic," a catachemv (1965:253), whose
discourse can allegedly reconcile the antonyrnic diammetry
between the axiological objectivity of the ontic world and
the mythological subjectivity of the semic world:
Geometer[. ..]knowest al1 things by the means of lines drawn
in different directions, and hast given us the veritable
portrait of three persons of God in three escutcheons which
are the quart essence of Tarot symbols" (251). Even in
science,- the figura1 is merely the alembic of the literal.
A Scientific Radicalism
Jarry may intend to transform the present context of a
posited reality, inspiring the anarchic politics of
permanent rebellion among much of the avant-garde;
nevertheless, such critics as Shattuck and Sandomir have
argued at length and with fervor that, because 'pataphysics
is an alleged science of indifference, such a science can
never support any political intention--unless it supports
al1 of them.
Shattuck argues that, because "'[plataphysics
preaches no rebellion[...], no political reform," such a
science never attempts to change events:
['lpataphysician[ ...] suspends al1 values" (1984:104).
Sandomir, likewise, argues that, because "'[plataphysics
does not enlighten any more than it should enlighten," such
a science never attempts t o improve things:
this, orgies of salvation are avoided" (1960e:173).
Shattuck argues that "'[plataphysics attempts no cures"
(104) even though Jarry has expanded upon a childhood
burlesque of pedagogic authority in order to foment a spirit
of revolt, be it anti-bourgeois or anti-philistine.
Although Shattuck may define such a nomad science as a ludic
philosophy for stoic epicureans since "[ilt allows each
person to live his life as an exception, proving no law but
his own" (106), Shattuck also disarms the radical anarchy of
such Nietzschean sentiments in order to equate 'pataphysics
with a postmodern will, not of wholehearted iconoclasm, but
of halfhearted compliance: "the etiquette of 'Pataphysics:
ironic conformity" (105).
Shattuck, however, cannot
acknowledge that what he regards as an egalitarian
celebration of indifference may instead be nothing more than
a parody of our own scientific impartiality.
Sandomir, likewise, argues that 'pataphysics is
apolitical in its incertitude:
"although democracy or
demophily are[ ...) only one fiction among others, the
['Ipataphysician is without doubt the undisputed holder of
the absolute record of democracy: without even rnaking an
effort he beats the egalitarians at their own game," for
"[tlhe fact is that he denies nothing; he exsuperatesn--
"Ihle is not there to do away with things but to subsume
them" (1960c:179). Sandomir, however, does not seem to
recognize that, since 'pataphysics studies exceptions in
order to make the weaker case, the stronger, such irony
always engages in a fervent dispute with the power of its
if such dispute represents, what
Baudrillard might call, the "transpolitical," relying as it
does upon the fatalistic strategies of simulation (1990:25).
Shattuck and Sandomir may forget that, like Nietzsche,
Jarry attempts to radicalize philosophy, not simply to
preserve metaphysics through an impotent negation of it, but
to displace metaphysics through a radical mutation within
it. Since Jarry develops 'pataphysics most expansively
through Faustroll and his exploits in Ethernity, this survey
concentrates upon the third phase of 'pataphysics in order
to draw such parallels between Jarry and Nietzsche.
survey then goes on to discuss the three declensions of the
exceptional (the anomalos, the sszs~ia, and the clinamen) in
order to itemize their 'pataphysical similarities to modern
tropes that have provided a basis for anti-metaphysical
meta-philosophies--the assumption being that 'pataphysics
represents an unwritten, but intrinsic, intertext to many of
the radical tactics found in deconstructive methodologies .
The Modernits of Jarry
'Pataphysics for Jarry resembles the philosophy of
Nietzsche, insofar as both writers make a case for
pers~ectivism. M. Bourdon at the Iqcge de Rennes is known
to have taught Jarry the philosophy of Nietzsche before its
translation into French (Beaumont 21), and only a few
critics,- particularly Dufresne (1993:26) and McCaffery
(1997:11), have intimated that Nietzsche provides a
critically neglected, but integrally important, set of
antecedents for 'pataphysics.
Just as Nietzsche has striven
"to look at science in the perspective of the artist"
(1966:19), greeting al1 philosophy with skepticism, sa also
does Jarry combine the noetic and the poetic into a genre
that questions al1 epistemological prerequisites.
and Nietzsche, knowledge itself is so deceptive that it
cannot even be corrected by this knowledge about knowledge.
Perspectivism suggests that reality does not exist,
except as the interpretive projection of a phenomenal
perspective--which is to say that, for Nietzsche, reality is
only the effect of a 'Jraumwelt, in which "there are many
kinds of 'truths,' and consequently there is no truth"
(1968:540) since "[tlruths are illusions which we have
forgotten are illusions" (1979:84).
Jarry likewise argues
that reality is but one aspect of an Ethernity, in which
"there are only hallucinations, or perceptions," and every
"perception is an hallucination which is true" (1989:103).
Reality is nothing more than a comparative apperception, an
as if for a disparate collection of different viewpoints,
each one creating the true for itself, while opposing every
other view. Each perspective is thus a solipsistic
singularity that has no recourse to perceptual consensus. 1
Science, for Nietzsche, is merely a viewpoint that does
not explicate a cornmon reality so much as interpret a unique
fantasy: "[tlhe habits of our senses have woven us into
lies and deception of sensation:
these are the basis of al1
our judgments and ' knowledge ' ," for which " there is
absolutely no escape[ ...] into the real world" (Babich 89).
Science, for Jarry, is also such "a statement of what is
visible to the mortal eye ( it is always a matter of mortal
eyes, hence vulgar and[ ...] flawedi. ..], and the sensory
organ being a cause of error, the scientific instrument
simply magnifies that sense in the direction of its error)"
(1989:105). As Daumal avers, no science can exceed the
nooscopic limit of its own anthropic focus, and thus
"['p]ataphysics will measure[ ...] the extent to which
everyone is stuck in the rut of individual existence" (33).
Jarry adopts such a solipsistic viewpoint, in which
perception "s~mbolicallv attributes the properties of
objects, described bv their virtuality, to tbeir lineaments"
(1965:193), the 'pataphysician wilfully mistaking the
superfice of the image for the substance of the thing:
no longer made any distinction at al1 between his thoughts
and actions nor between his dreaming and[ ...] waking"
(1989:103). Just as Nietzsche describes reality as a
vacuous surface, in which we grasp "nothing but the mirror"
(1982:141), so also does Jarry describe a reality of
"parallel mirrors" that reflect their own "reciprocal
Like Berkeley, both Jarry and
Nietzsche argue that esse is perci~i, but while Berkeley
posits a panoptic absolute, whose gaze sustains al1 other
views, Jarry and Nietzsche argue thst no view is absolute.
'Pataphysics in fact sees that every viewpoint is
dissolute-oincluding its own-since
no view can offer a norm
for al1 others.
Jarry even suggests that, because invisible
worlds transect our perceived reality at many points across
many scales, the cosmos almost resembles a heteroclite
archipelago of monolithic lighthouses-strange
their own "obelischolychnies" (1965:201), each of which
illuminates a particular haven for its own idiocratic
Only eyes adapted to a specif ic spectrum can detect
a given signal; hence, some lights go unseen, particularly
by the hemeralo~es, the dayblind who see only in darkness:
"for moles[...], a lighthouse is as invisible as[ ...] the
infrared rays" (201 ) . A
beacon may even sound its alarms at
a frequency too extreme for auditory response:
break against it , and thus no sound guides one to it" ( 201 ) .
'Pataphysics avers that even science itself is just
another beacon, one that guides instinct away from a cool,
but natural, truth toward a warrn, but cultural, truth.
Science thus behaves like a wolf that no longer bays at the
£ire of a terrible moon, but only at the glow of an electric
lamp. Such a pharos may emit light at a different
wavelength, but docs so at an equivalent luminosity,
replacing the vulgar idolatry of belief with the more subtle
egomania of reason:
"[s}cience, say the bourgeois, has
dethroned superstition" (1989:105) when in fact science has
simply ensconced itself as the successor to such credulity
in order to preside over (superstare) the same anthropic
biases of these antiquary errors.
For every solar truth of
a royal science, there is this lunar truth of a nomad
science--a forbidden knowledge that history must outshine.
>Pataphysics confronts such a millenary conundrum with
imaginary solutions, whose metaphors of exception have
perhaps lent as much to Derrida as they have owed to
Nietzsche, providing an unwritten intertext for postmodern
Just as McCaffery has discussed Nietzsche in
terms of a "Zarathustran 'pataphysics" ( 1997 : 11 ) , so also
has Dufresne discussed Derrida in terms of a
"[Dleconstructive ['Ipataphysics" (1993:26), and Stillman
goes so far as to argue that "Jarry's desire to escape
metaphys-ics returns today, newly masked under the
philosophical thrust of deconstruction" ( 39 ) since Jarry
offers a poetic theory of contradictory undecidability,
continually inverting a dyadic hierarchy, while momentarily
subverting its mutual exclusion-neither
surpassing the dialectic:
not Aufhebung, but Steigerung.
Dufresne observes that "the sheer coincidence[. ..]
which conjoins deconstruction to ['Jpataphysics is worth
further examination" (29) since "it is here[...]that
Derrida, Jarry, and Nietzsche form an unholy trinity, a
truly grand[ ...) style of epiphenomenal proportions" (31)--a
style that does not simply claim, as true, that no claim is
true, but that tries instead to imagine a double science,
whose episteme no longer presumes in sdvance that we even
know how to know.
As Nietzsche avers, "[olne would have to
know what being &, in order to decide whether this or that
in the same way, what certaintv is, what
knowledgc is, and the 1ike.--But since we do not know this,
a critique of the faculty of knowledge is senseless:
should a tool be able to criticize itself when it can use
only itself for critique" (Babich 88).
Nietzsche reveals that, for this reason, "the problem
of science cannot be recognized on the ground of science"
(1966:18) since to do so requires that science be used to
prove that it cannot be used to prove.
evokes the classic paradox that has corne to define
Sandomir has even gone on to
affirm that, of al1 the sciences, "[olnly 'Pataphysics[ ...)
does not explain itself but establishes its own position
within a vicious circle" (1960b:176) i n order to claim what
science cannot admit:
condition of knowledge.
that the absurdity of tautology is a
As Daumal avers, "['plataphysical
arguments do not necessarily set up systems designed to
demonstrate the truth of this or that proposition;" insteed,
"[tlhey generally develop as vicîous circles and bring the
human spirit to a limit-state of stupor and scandal" (112).
Derrida, for example, does not simply oppose a thesis
with its antithesis, nor does he even equate them to a third
term of synthesis--nor does Derrida simply invert this
system of value between thesis and antithesis, but affirms
(and denies) both sides of this dialectic, revealing the
undecidable contradiction that always appears to makes such
a relation both possible and impossible at the same time:
"[tlhe break with this structure of belonging can be
announced only through[ ...] a certain strateaic arrangement
which, within the field of metaphysical opposition, uses the
strengths of the field to turn its own stratagems against
it, producing a force of dislocation that spreads itself
throughout the entire system, fissuring it in every
direction and thoroughly delimitinq it" (1978:SO).
Jarry, Nietzsche, and Derrida, do not defend the truth
of their own sophism so much as flout the truisms of truth
itself--its self-evidence, its self-awereness.
observes that "whatever is self-evident cloaks itself in
absurditv as its onls means of ~ercep-"--" [ w J hence
the humorous appearance of [ ' ] pataphysical reasoning " ( 3 1 ) ,
whose ludicrous syllogisms lead to an infinitude of
lt[']pataphysical sophism is an apparent sophism
which envelops an apparent truth which envelops an apparent
sophism which envelops an apparent truth, and so on ad
infinitum" (111)--or as Torma observes:
behind r'lpatapbvsics and vou make it merels the facade for
a belief" when in fact "the essence of I'l~ata~husics is
that it is the facade of a facade, behind which there is
nothingW--only the black abyss of total doubt (Hale 145).
The Ethernitv of Faustroll
Jarry situstes his own 'pataphysical sensibility in
such a posited reality, an imaginary dimension that he calls
Ethernitv, a "NOWHERE, or SOMEWHERE, which is the same
thing" ( 1965: 248)--an interzone where the reference of a
sign does not describe, but conjures, the existence of the
real through the ur of simulation.
Ethernity resembles a
state of maximum entropp-a nullified condition whose
potential goes unmeasured, unobserved, its ei~enstate
corresponding to "the perplexity of a man outside time and
space, who has lost his[ ...] measuring rod, and his tuning
fork" ( 248 ) . Like the Maxwell Demon, the 'pataphysician
intervenes in such a void of thermodynamic equilibriurn,
sorting its randomly distributed atoms into narrowly
constructed forms (249)--creating, in this case, a
spectroscope whose measurements cause a fiat lux ex nihilo.
Ethernity expresses a reality built out of thought
alone--a realm whose fantastic substance, "ether," refers
not only to the hypothetical medium that can transport
lightwaves through a vacuum (as is the case for the photic
theory of Kelvin), but also to the anaesthetic vapour that
can transform awareness in an addict (as is the case for the
mystic vision of Jarry). Whether scientific or mythopoeic,
both kinds of ether provide an imaginary solution to the
problem of illumination. -Even light itself must express the
ontological expediency of an imagined paradigm. Just as
quantum physics has interpreted the act of measurement
itself the collapse of a mathematical wavefunction,
realizing reality rather than reporting it, so also does
'pataphysics reveal that "the function of navigators was to
make land" (199)--not to find it.
Ethernity is simply the milieu for al1 such imaginary
perception, be it a scientific mode1 or a novel literature.
Books there become an archipelago, where voyagers can travel
together from text to text, as though from isle to isle (be
it the land of Cack, of Ptyx, of Her, etc.).
Each port of
cal1 is a haven for the allegorical impressions of either an
artist or a writer, as if such motifs are "excellent
quintessences1 ...] brought back by inquisitive men from their
travels" (1965:203)--for example:
"[flrom Rabelais, the
little bells to which the devils danced during the tempest";
"from ~autréamont, the scarab, beautiful as the trembling of
hands in alcoholism" (1965:191). Such images provide a
Wunderkammern of uncanny specimens for an imaginary
scientist, who collects as though without exception, al1
cases of exception--al1 the rareties of teratism.
Ethernity presents to us a literary universe to be
explored by a science that must learn in turn to explore
itself as literary; consequently, the exploits of Faustroll
in Ethernity resemble the voyages of Gulliver in Laputa or
even the adventures of Alice in Wonderland (insofar as al1
three fantasies use a nomad journey to lampoon a royal
science)-. Swift and Carroll, however, use such nonsense to
expose the aporias of the rational on behalf of reform,
whereas Jarry uses his nonsense to induce his own visions of
the schizoid on behalf of revolt. What Swift berates in the
science of Boyle and Hooke (eclecticism), Jarry admires in
the science of Boys and Kelvin. What Carroll debates on the
surface with Humpty Dumpty (amphilogiem), Jarry extends to
the extreme with Bosse-de-Nage.
What Alice and Gulliver
fear to become (schizonoiac), Faustroll already is.
Faustroll is a 'pataphysical philosopher, who has gone
beyond good and evil in order to invoke the reverie of a
schizoid superman--a parodic version of Zarethustra, the
kind of exceptional personality that Sengle might describe
as one of the "superior intelligences, who are few," but who
are often mistaken for the infirm or the insane since "the
bourgeois is not learned enough to study the body and the
scientist is too learned[...]to
study the spirit"
(1989:106). The Ubermensch defies al1 such Manicheanism,
fusing the sou1 of a supernal "Faust" with the body of an
infernal "Troll, "' parodying the telic myths of Darvinian
evolution by collating beast, human, and deity into an
apostate "tetragon" (1965:254)--the Hephistophelian image of
an hermaphroditic satyr, for whom God is just an artifice of
humanity--"man to an improper degree" ( 1965: 183) .'
Faustroll is quite literally, a literary creation, his
body becoming a book--a papyrus cadaver that can unscroll to
divulge the secrets of a poetic vision, "his eyes, like two
capsules of ordinary writing-ink" (1965:9).
Just as Jarry
makes a spectacle of himself, adopting the mannerisms of his
characters (particularly Ubu), so also does the Ubermensch
embody 'pataphysics through the syntax of his own corpus--a
pidouille perhaps, which charts "the progress cf the solid
future entwined[...]in spiralst' so that, "[llike a musical
score, al1 art and al1 science were written in the
curves[ ...], and their progression to an infinite degree was
prophesied therein" (1965:245).
For such a superman, whose
life is a text that displays the grammar of flux and flow,
language itself becomes an absurd vessel--a sieve of words,
set adrift upon the oceanic surface of a protean reality.
Faustroll indeed sets sail in such a ship, whose
manifest does not itemize the ballast of a boat so much as
the content of a book:
its hvpertext of influence--a
literal "network" where the science of Boys and the poetry
of Lear can fuse into a conceit about language.
writes nonsense about the Jumblies, who "went to sea in a
Sieve, they did,/ In a Sieve they went to seatl (l947:7l),
Boys proves that, despite such an absurd notion, the surface
tension of water can indeed support a sieve: "[tlhis
experimentl ...] illustrates hou difficult it is to
write[ ...]p erfect nonsense" (29). Boys, however, does not
make sense of a poem so much as get stuck in its mesh.
Jarry, such a sieve is slso a trope for a semiotic gridwork
--a chart riven with holes, its network able to rest upon
the superfice of reelity but unable to hold its substance.
Faustroll regards this reality as the surface tension
of either an elastic film or a crystal skin-whatever
constitutes a superf icial experience, whose sol ipsism
requires a mathesis sinaularis in order to accommodate the
specificity of each perspective.
Regular science must
standardize such experience, according to the substantive
metaphysics of a capital economy, so that each viewpoint can
be replicated and substituted for every other viewpoint.
Units of scale function like rates of value in a monetary
standard so that to measure is to judge the whole by one
piece--to make one case of exception the basis for al1 other
conceptions. The science of 'pataphysics, however,
expresses amazement at the very arbitrariness of such
measurement, arguing that the generality of such standards
must always efface the speciality of any anomalies.
Faustroll defies this demand for uniform metrics by
acting out a spectacle of hyperbolic exectitude in order to
force each unique standard to an extreme beyond al1
standards (hence, his absurd use of decimal exponents and
quantum diameters as units of scale).
He suggests that, if
science must pretend that its measure is no caprice, then
the act of def ining a unit of non-density according to a
quantitp of vacuum seems far less arbitrary than the act of
defining a unit of density according to a quantity of water
(1965:193). 1s not measurement just a morbid drive to
abolish the irony of such a vacuum, be it astronomical or
infinitesimal--the very irony that is the abyss of
'pataphysics itself 1s not science afraid to admit its own
cognitive innumeracy when faced with the abysmal vertigo, if
not the horror vacui, in the void of such a ~raumwelt~
'Pataphysics argues that every truth of science depends
upon such questions of scale, be they micro or macro (like
the schism in physics between atomic laws and cosmic lawsl.
Crookes, for example, has argued that a shift in scale rnight
cause an observer to rnistake both capillary action and
brownian motion for forces stronger than gravity ( 609 ) .
Citing Swift, Crookes even says that the ability to study
thermal combustion under secure conditions may depend upon
the dimensions of an observer: for lilliputians, chernistry
fails because they can generate only insufficient heat; for
brobdinagians, chernistry fails because they can generate
only superabundant heat (611). Citing Crookes, Jarry in
turn uses this imagery to explain 'pataphysical
perspectivism, depicting Faustroll as a miniature homunculus
who changes size i n order to explore the surface of a leaf.
Surface tension, when experienced at a such a small
scale, causes water to become a plastic solid rather than an
aqueous fluid, a "malleable glass" (1965:195), whose
exploded droplets are not wet and soft, but dry and hard,
The ministurized 'pataphysician reveals that
even a raindrop can contain s microcosm, "a globe, twice his
size, through whose transparency the outlines of the
universe appeared to him gigantically enlarged, whilst his
own image, reflected dimlyl ...], was magnified" (195).
droplet is a metaphor for the eye itself, a fluid sphere, an
"ovoid myopia," whose lens does not inspect the real so much
as distort it, each drop "drawing along beneath it the image
of the tangential point of the universe[. . .], magnifying its
fabulous centertt (195)--in this case, the alibi for a
the image of man himself.
Nietzsche argues that, when such a science studies the
real, science admires the true, not because the true grants
itself either a use or an aim, but because the true treats
itself as both a law and an end:
"the f aith in science,
which after al1 exists undeniably, cannot owe its origin to
such a calculus of utility; it must have originated in spite
of the fact that the[ ...] dangerousness of 'the will to
truth,' of 'truth at any price' is proved to it constantly"
(1974:281). The will to truth entails, but effaces, its own
will to error. For 'pataphysics, the threat of error finds
itself expressed through the three declensions of exception
(the anomalos, the svzyaia, and the clinamen)--three events
that involve a monstrous encounter, be it in the form of an
aporia, a chiasm, or a swerve--whatever takes on the
character of alterity in the aftermath of some accident.
The Princi~le of Variance
Anomalos is the first declension of exception:
anomaly of the aporia.
Differing from every other thing in
a systern that values the norm of equivalence--it serves the
will to disrupt. Jarry may posit this notion within his own
modernist context (the Ausnahrne in Nietzsche, or perhaps
even the Excluded in Fort), but such a principle of variance
does provide a pretext for postmodern philosophy about the
theme of paralepsis (for example, the su~~lement in Derrida,
the parasite in Serres, etc.)--excesses that replace what
they augment, operating against, but within, the limits of
the syst-em that must exclude them.
The anomslos is the
repressed part of a rule which ensures that the rule does
It is a difference which makes a difference and
is thus synonymous with the cybernetic definition of
interferent information--the very measure of surprise.
Nietzsche argues that, wherever life seemç repetitive,
poetry fulfills a desire for freedom, but wherever life
seems disruptive, science fulfills a desire for boredom:
"the first instinct of the knower is to search for rules,
although naturally enough with the confirmation of a rule
nothing is as yet 'known' ! --[flrom
this we get the
superstition of the physicists"--"[t]hey feel 'securey: but
behind this intellectual security stands the calming of
frightfulness: thev want rules because these strip the
world of its fearsomeness" (Babich 97) .6
What repeats has a
it is an expected case, a reprise, and thus
poses no problem, because it implies the security of a
paredigrno-but what does not repeat has an uncertain order:
it is an excepted case, a surprise, and thus poses a
problem, because it implies the insecurity of a paralogy.
Nietzsche argues that " ' [ t] hings' do not behave
regularly, according to a rule" (1968:634).
Rules do not
curate events BO much as defend us from their threat. Rules
do not describe the anomaly of our reality so much as
restrain the anxiety of its mystery:
"Illet us bewere of
saying that there are laws in nature" for "[tlhere are only
necessities" (1974:168)--there is no decree, no thrall, no
Rules are simply induced as an expedient, not of
cognizance, but of ignorance.
For this reason, Jarry
criticizes the truth of such rules by arguing that, while
"[m]ost people have seen a certain phenomenon precede or
follow some other phenomenon most often, and conclude
therefrom that it will ever be thus[. . . ] , this is true only
in the majority of cases, depends upon the point of view,
and is codif ied only for convenience--if that" ( 1965: 193 ) .
Jarry argues that the laws of the universe are not
laws, but "correlations of exceptions, albeit more frequent
ones, but in any case accidental data, which reduced to the
status of unexceptional exceptions, possess no longer even
the virtue of originality" (1965:193).
Rules must efface
the idiocracy of the anomalos, but ironically such a rule
about rules already risks the anomaly of paradox itself.
While a metaphysical science must rule out exceptions, such
exceptions are the rule (in which case they are no longer
exceptions); instesd, the rule is itself the exception in a
'pataphysical science that rules out the rule.
of 'pataphysics delights in such paradoxes because its logic
studies what logic exempts. As Nietzsche avers, "there
actually are things to be said in favor of the exception
provided that it never wants to become the rule" ( 1974: 131 ) .
Fort dramatizes this principle of variance in a kind of
'pataphysical encyclopaedia, whose itinerary bombards its
Victorian readers with bizarrerie, ironically documenting,
as though without exception, cases of exception, be they
climatological (tiny frogs, for exemple, falling from
temperate skies) or archaeological (iron tools, for example,
hailing from neolithic times)--case after case, in which
science ignores evidence in order to make aberrancies fit
His parodic theories about the as if of
extraterrestrial interventionisrn offers a forum, not to
decode exceptional phenornena, but to debunk scientific
No theorem, only decorum, prevents science from
considering the possibility of such an alien visit.
this visit but a trope for the arriva1 of anomaly itself
1s not truth but a dogma that must alienate the anomalos
Anomaly is, after all, like a stranger, estranged.
Whether damned (as in Fort), accursed (as in Bataille), or
ab-iect (as in Kristeva) , such anomaly refers to the anomie
of an excess, whose ambiguities transgress the rule that
divides identity f rom alterity .' For Baudrillard, hovever,
this metaphysics of anomie may not apply to a 'pataphysics
of excess because "[alnomaly is at play in an aleatory,
statistical field[ ...]of variations and modulations which no
longer know[ ... J transgression" ( 1990: 26 ) . For metaphysics,
the anomalos is an infraction of a limit (a difference in
specie), but for 'pataphysics, the anomalos is an aberration
from a curve (a difference in degree).
The anomalos is a
surprise, a mutation--a "simple apparition" without tragedy
or perfidy (26). Not criminalized, but relativized, it
reveals thfit everything has the potential to be anomelous.
Faustroll even goes so far as to define reality itself
as "that which is the exception to oneselfl' (l965:245), just
as Nietzsche might suggest that, becsuse this universe
constitutes an unlikely condition among an infinity of more
probable potential, "[tlhe astral order in which we live is
an exception," whose situation and duration has made
possible ''an exception of exceptions:
the formation of the
organic" (1974:168). Such an anomalos is the result not of
chance design, but of random errors-events
whose element of
surprise brings every rule to life in a reprise without
either purpose or refrain.
Such an anomalos dares science
to reconsider its margin of error, the trivial discrepancy
between diverse experiments, so that we might in turn
imagine a universe where nothing hsppens twice--instead
each event arises from its own set of exclusive accidents.
Sszsaia: The Princi~le of Alliance
S V Z Y R ~ is ~ the second declension of exception: the
syzygy of the chiasm.
Differing from every other thing in a
system that values the norm of difference--it serves the
will to confuse. Jarry may posit this notion within a
mediaeval context (the Coniunctia of Avicenna, or perhaps
even the Mysteriurn of Paracelsus), but such a principle of
alliance does provide a pretext for postmodern philosophy
about the theme of syncretism (for example, the chiasmus in
Derrida or the syzygy in Serres, etc.)--conceits which
conjoin as much as they disjoin, inverting, while equating,
the values of the binary that must support them. The
syzy~ia is the neglected part of a pair which ensures that
such a pair is neither united nor parted for more than an
instant. It coincides with the laughter that erupts when we
eliminate differences in order to imagine the incornpossible.
Jarry uses the s ~zv~ia to describe the synthesis of the
poetic and the noetic, as derived from a fragment, so that,
"during the syzygy of words[.,.,] one could have
reconstructed, through this facet, al1 art and al1 science"
(l965:245). The word "syzygy" normally refers to a
celestial alignment of three planets, two of which are at
the opposite antipodes of their orbit around a third. The
horizon that connects the two extremes of perihelion and
aphelion can provide a conceit for the dualism of conceit
itself--the coniunctia o~~ositorum not only between a
positive and its negative (this, not-this), but also between
such a binary relation and its plenary opposite.
of words reveals that language not only defines, but also
deletes, this distance between extremes. It assumes the
possibility of the incompossible: Plus-and-Minus ( 2 ).
Jarry suggests that, for "the dispute between the sign
Plus and the sign Minus," a philosopher can demonstrate "the
identity of opposites, by means of the mechanical device
called the phssick-stick" (1965:252).
More excremental than
instrumental, this syrnbol of power lampoons phallogocentric
representation. Not a priapic sceptre, but a toilet brush--
such a staff is an "uprooted phallus" (1965:lll) thst beats
the nomad koan, not the royal word, into its student.
device spins about its axis along a line that does not trace
out the cross of the law so much as cross out al1 trace of
"in each quarter of every one of your
rotations[ ...]y ou form a cross with yourself" (111).
device in motion both affirms and negates, becoming not only
an alchernical cipher for the holism of opposite parts, but
also a scientific symbol for a margin of probable error.
Lyotard also refers to this turning of a "bar which
separates the this from the not-this" (1993:15) when he
posits a linear device, whose stasis signifies a mandatory
division, but whose motion activates an aleatory confusion. 9
Just as Lyotard implies that such conjugality of revolution
can erase the temporality of difference, so also does Jarry
argue that the physicks-stick is a crank-shaft for a timemachine,
whose syzygy reveals that "there are neither nights
nor days," neither systole nor diastole--no "pendulum
movements" (1989:103), only this intense instant, atemporal
and libidinal. As Jarry argues: minus sign is ferninine;
plus sign is masculine--"[f]or the Geometer, these two signs
cancel each other out or impregnate each other, and there
resultsC...]their progeny, which becomes[ ...] zero, al1 the
more identical because they are contrary" (1965:252).
Daumal implies that such a s ~zs~ia repeats an Eastern
intuition, insofar as the equation of this and not-this
resembles what the Hindu cal1 Advaita--the negated duality,
in which "To know & = to know (Everything - X)" (l993:3l ).
While "[gletting this idea into your head will help you get
a firm footing in ['IPataphysics" (311, such an idea has
often evoked only the mystical vulgarism of the New Age, in
which the likes of Capra and Zukav can now popularize the
similarity between the taoist mysticism of the East and the
quantum mechanics of the West (so that, for example, the
ambiguity between yin and yang now offers an oriental
metaphor for the ambiguity between particle and waveform).
For Daumal, the absurdity of such extremes and their
equation is laughable--but this laughter is itself what
negates dualism and affirms syzygy, like a joyful wisdom. IF
Daumal writes that "'[p]ataphysical laughter[ ...] is the
one human expression of the identity of opposites," and "if
we ['Ipataphysicians often feel our limbs shaken by
laughter, it's the dreadful laughter from facing the clear
evidence[ ...] that al1 defined existence is a scandal"
(1995:28-29). Bosse-de-Nage, the laughing subhuman, is a
voice for such a syzygy. H i s "tautological rnonosyllable,"
ha ha, is a laughtrack for the sophistry of diffgrance, the
limit between differing and deferring:
"the two A 's differ
in space, when we write them, if not indeed in tirne, just as
two twins are never born together" (l965:228). Not simply
ltA juxtaposed to A," but "A = A,"
the syzygy of such a
guffaw is paradoxically both different and equivalent:
"[plronounced slowly, it is the idea of duality," but
"[pIronounced quickly[ ...] it is the idea of unity" (228).
Bosse-de-Nage responds to the absurd syzygy of physics
in a universe of undecidable uncertainty:ll after all,
quantum theories of symmetricality and reversibility almost
seem to suggest that such a reality tests our mundane wits
with its quantum puns. Each photon might be interpreted as
a point or a field.
Each electron moving forward through
time might also be interpreted as a positron moving backward
Does not Faustroll propose a theory of
gravity, in which "the fa11 of a body towards a center" is
the same as "the ascension of a vacuum towards a periphery"
(1965:193) Does not Sengle suggest that an infinitely
smooth surface is indistinguishable from an infinitely rough
surface (1989:105) The s ~ z y ~ simply i a ensures that such
ambiguity is preserved in a world where we can no longer
distinguish between reality and illusion.
The Principle of Deviance
Clinamen is the thi rd declension of exception:
decline of the swerve.
Detouring around every other thing
in a system that values the fate of contrivance--it
the will to digress.
Jarry rnay borrow this notion from a
classical context (the clinamen in Lucretius, or even the
parenklisis in Epicurus), but such a principle of deviance
also provides a pretext for postmodern philosophy about the
theme of - misprision ( for example, the détournement in
Derrida or the declination in Serres, etc.)--vagaries
diverge from what directs them, escaping the events of the
system that controls them.
The clinamen is simply the
unimpeded part of a flow which ensures that such a flow has
Not unlike the spiral of Ubu or the vortex of
Pound, such a swerve is the atomic glitch of a microcosmic
incertitude--the symbol for a vital poetic, gone awry.
Lucretius writes that, "while the first bodies are
being carried downwards by their own weight in a straight
line through the void[ ...], they swerve a little from their
course" ( 113 ) , for without this uncertain swerve in space
and time (incerto tempore ferme incertisuue locis), "al1
would fa11 downwards like raindrops through the profound
void, no collision would take place[...]: thus nature would
never have produced anything" (113).
The clinamen involves
a brownian kinetics, whose decline defies inertia since such
a swerve must imply a change in vector without a change in
force. The clinamen represents the minimal obliquity within
a laminar trajectory.
The curve is a tangent to a descent,
but a tangent that defies al1 calculus since the curve is
itself a tangent composed of nothing but tangents ad
the volute rhythm of a fractai contour.
Lucretius resorts to such a swerve in order to posit a
choice between what Serres regards as two genres of physics:
"Venus, that is to say, nature; or Mars, that is to sey,
Venus denotes the eroticism of a nomad
paralogy, the volu~tas of a fluid dynamics (fold and flow),
whereas Mars denotes the necrotism of a royal paradigm, the
voluntas of a solid mechanics (rank and file). l2
has usually adopted the latter physics,13 insofar as it
murders to dissect, declaring martial law on behalf of
whatever is repestable and there fore predictable--the
foederi fati of a terroristic determinism.
however, that the clinamen deflects this mandatory destiny
into an aleatory ecstasy: "[tlhe clinamen of the elementary
principle[ ...] would be the pleasure principle" (1984:8)--a
artfulness disrupting lawfulness.
Serres argues that, for such modern physics, "[tlhe
clinamen is a principal element of homeorrhesis," not of
Atomic events do not be so much as
their equilibrium does not repeat so much as
Even though "the time of the clinamen is not
necessarily simultaneous with leaving the dead to bury the
dead" (99), such a swerve does provide a nomad cognate to
the royal concept of entro~~, be it in a flow of heat (as
defined by Boltzmann) or in a flow of data (as defined by
Just as Lucretius draws an analogy between atoms
(atomica) and words (littera), arguing that both substance
and utterance result from a random complex of combinations
and permutations (175), so also does Serres draw an analogy
between thernionics and cybernetics, arguing that both
sciences theorize the clinamen as either decay or noise.
Serres explains that, for Lucretius, any compound, be
it chemical or grammatic, results fram an aleatory act that
in turn mistakes itself post facto as the result of a
mandatory law: for example, "[tlhe alphabetical proto-cloud
is without law and the letters are scattered at random,
always there as a set in space, as language; but as soon as
a text or speech appears, the laws of good formulation,
combination, and conjugation also appear" (1982:114). I4
lawfulness can exist without such repetition; however, the
clinamen serves to interject turbulence into the reprise of
such lawful cycles in order to disrupt the flow of influence
from cause to effect.
As Derrida implies, such a swerve
evokes the very "atomssti~ue of the letter" ( 1984 : 10 ) , its
portmanteau of quantum pulsion and lingual turmoil, both of
which are ramified by poetry, if not unified by science.
McCaffery dramatizes such an atornystique by deploying
the clinamen as a semantic strategy in his esssy on the
'pataphysics of Zarathustra.
Just as Lucretius argues that
only the- clinamen of a minimal errancg divides the fire
(i~nes) from the firs (li~na), so also does McCaffery
transpose letters, inserting them or replacing them, in
order to divert the flow of his text with each typo.
increasing frequency of such miscreance eventually results
in s displsy of cacophasia so that, for example, the word
clinamen might become chinameq, cinnamen etc. (1997:16).
For Jarry, the wordplay of such deviance often takes the
form of the portmanteau (cornenidouille, palcontentes,
etc.)--words that do not abbreviate or congregate two
meanings so much as complicate their sequencing through an
act of misprision that parodies their linguistic precedents.
Bloom argues that, because such misprision allows a
poet to evade influence and become anomalous, "the study of
Poetic Influence is necessarily a branch of 'Pataphysics"
(1973:42). Influence is no longer an inter-reference, but
an interference, in which divertissement replaces
ressentiment. Precedent norms no longer inhibit subsequent
forms since "the clinamen stems always from a 'Pataphysical
sense of the arbitraryN--the "equal baphazardness" of cause
"'[p]ataphysics proves to be truly accurate; in
the world of poets al1 regularities are indeed 'regular
exceptions'; the recurrence of vision is itself a law
governing exceptions" (42). What repeats is not a rule of
repetition and imitation, but a game of competition and
agitation, in which the clinamen is the smallest, possible
aberration that can make the greatest, potential difference.
The IrnaRinary Solution
'Pataphysics misreads metaphysics in order to disrupt
it , confuse it, or def lect it, transposing the relationship
between a royal paradigm and a nomad paralogy, until such a
philosophy of exceptions goes even so far as to misread
Subsequent 'pataphysicians (the Italian Futurists,
the French Oulipians , and the Canadian "Pataphysicians )
reinterpret their antecedent practitioners, misreading them
in order to avoid the normalization of such abnormalities.
Each predecessor is (mis)interpreted as a problem requiring
a solution. As Bloom observes, "[t]his sense is not
reductive, for it is the continuum, the stationing context,
that is reseen, and shaped into the visionary; it is brought
up to the intensity of the crucial objects, which then
'fade' into it" (42). In essence, each solution is itself
the catalyst for a phantasm that in turn becomes a problem.
'Pataphysics may be a science of imaginary solutions,
but this- imaginariness does not entai1 its insignificance
because, as McCaffery argues: "[tlhet the problem is a
pseudo-problem in no way nullifies the pursuit of a solution
for the pursuit in itself will evince the problematic nature
of both 'problem' and tsolution'" (1986:189). Deleuze
argues that a problem does not simply mean the failure of a
theorem, whose ineptitude or incertitude can vanish through
cumulative knowledge; instead, "[sjolutions are engendered
st precisely the same time that the problem determines
itself" (1990:lZl). Questions always define in advance the
regime of their answers.
The problem always persists in the
very paradigm that allows the solution to make sense as a
No enigma Fs solved so well that its status as an
enigma ceases to exist.
A solution is infinitely imaginary,
'Pataphysics implies that al1 problems threaten to
operate at the infinite disposa1 of a futile inquest.
Baudrillard goes so far as to suggest that the object (with
its fatal strategies of fascination) mey pose a problem
without solution for the subject (and its banal strategies
of explanetion) since attempts by science to render reaiity
more explicable and controllable always threaten to render
reality even more inexplicable and uncontrollable (1988:89).
Science gazes at a crystal that promises to answer al1
questions, but that instead captures science with a demand
for even- more questions. Like the evil genie feared by
Descartes or the free spirit loved by Nietzsche, the crystal
takes revenge upon the will to truth.
The subject tries to
solve the object, but meanwbile the object tries to dissolve
the subject, and ultimately the object always triumphs. i 5
'Pataphysics effectively reveals that this demand for
truth is only an imaginary solution to the deceit of such an
object. Nietzsche asks: "'Why do you not want to deceive'
especially if it should seem--and it does seem!--as if life
aimed at[ ...] deception, simulation, delusion" (1974:281-
282). Why believe in truth Why not believe in untruth
Why does belief in either case take itself so seriously
Why does belief in effect believe in itself Why not move
from the deceit of truth to the truth of deceit The
science of 'pataphysics suggests that, without the mendacity
of poetry, what the veracity of science reveals about the
borror vacui of the universe, the fact that delusions are
integral to al1 knowledge, must seem utterly nightmarish.
The value of poetry thus resides in its ability to play in
this void that the truth of science must find in the real.
Notes to Cha~ter 2
l~ietzsche affirms that "[i]t is[ ...]a diff icult
thingl. ..]to admit[..,Jthat the insect or the bird perceives
an entirely different world from the one thst man does, and
that the question of which of these perceptions of the world
is the more correct one is quite meaningless, for this would
have to have been decided previously in accordance with the
criterion of the correct perception, which means, in
accordance with a criterion which is not available"
(1979:86). No panoptic absolute provides a reliable
standard for the unremitting specificity of each truth.
'~arr~, like Nietzsche, implies that truth is a
sacred pharos, whose foundation rests upon a legacy of both
death and waste, its faecal beacon attracting the blind like
flies to the snare of its church--a monument built upon the
corpse of a comatose colossus who takes, as a limit for al1
knowledge, only the point of his exhaustion (1965:201).
Truth is a phallic asylum for such a lingual despot, insofar
as "ItJhis obeliscolychny [...]bas the form of some gesture
of command" (1989:96), consigning us to a sentence of
imprisonment, despite el1 pretense of enlightenment.
'~austroll provides a conceit for the poetic
wisdom in the alchemy of the lapis ~hiloso~horum, dispelling
limits, not only between the basic and the noble, but also
between the ontic and the semic--the very schism between the
vates and the lapis:
"'1 could easily transmute al1 things,
for I also possess this stone' (he showed it ta me, set in
one of his rings), 'but I have found by experiment that the
benefit extends only to those whose brain is that selfsame
stone' (through a watchglass embedded in the fontanel of his
skull he showed me the stone a second time)" (1965:236).
'~arr~ implies that, from the viewpoint of the
Ubermensch, evolution is a Sisypheen task not for a humanity
that must solve the futile problems of the species, but for
the divinity that must imagine more clever problems for the
species to solve (1989:135-136). Daumal even argues that
such natural selection is itself 'pataphysical, insofar as
it is tautological, stating that each form of l ife exists as
it is because, if it were otherwise, it could not exist
(32)--or-as Fort avers, the only evidence for fitness is
survival itself: "Darwinism: That survivors survive" (24).
'~odern physics has already striven to address
such horror vacui by adopting an almost 'pataphgsical
countenance when discussing the relationship between
position and momentum.
At an atomic scale, the measurement
of one value precludes concommitant knowledge about the
other value (such is the principle of uncertainty).
cosmic scale, two measurements of one value may Vary if one
of the measurements occurs at an ultramassive position or at
a proxiluminal momentum (such is the principle of
relativityl. The act of measuring is no longer reassuring.
'~ietzsche ironically formulates a rule about
rules--a rule that breaks its own rules, insofar as he
dramatizes the very induction that he chastizes. Nietzsche
presents such a paradox in order to question the rules by
which rules can question, arguing that, despite such a
paradox, science nevertheless settles for rules that are
more reactive than creative. Science is a superstition that
vilifies theistic sentiment, but that nevertheless reifies
theistic-ressentiment, substituting a love of what is usual
(the banal), for a fear of what is unusual (the fatal).
'~ort, 1 ike Nietzsche, indulges in skeptical
sophistry, defining scientific anomalies in terms of
recursive exclusion--a paradox, in which, for a thing to be
real, it must excise itself from a whole in order to evince
itself as the whole:
"nothing can attempt to be, except by
attempting to exclude something else" ( 7). Like Jarry, Fort
uses ironic whimsy to argue sophistically that, "if al11 ...]
existence perceptible to us is the product of exclusion,
there is nothing that is perceptible to us that really is"
(7). A thing is only an effect of prejudicial distinction.
bisteva argues that the subject confronts
poetic anomaly in either one of two ways:
performing such fear (as Plato does), detaching oneself from
its cornpetitive potential to pervert reason into unreason;
second, by reforming such fear (as Aristotle does), engaging
oneself with its repetitive potential to convert unreason
Aristotle convicts anomaly in order to demand
its contribution through the katharsis of communication.
Plato ev-icts anomaly in order to demand its retribution
through the pharmakos of excommunication (1982:16).
'~~otardescribes the turning-bar in a manner
that recalls the physick-stick, insofar as both types of
line-segment spin around their own axis according to a
non-Boolean logic in a non-Euclidean space--"a movement
yielding the following three properties:
the rotation takes
place on al1 the axes without exclusion, the central point
is itself displaced over the segment in an alestory way,
finally it is equally displaced in the supposed neutral
spacen and "[tlhus a surface is engendered, which is nothing
other than the labyrinthine libidinal band" (1993:15).
'O~aurnal argues that , " [ 'pl ataphysical laughter"
denotes an awareness of absurdist dualities--"it signifies
the subject's headlong rush toward its opposite object and
at the same time the submission[...]to
that law of becoming
according to which laughter is begotten" (1995:28-29). As
"we inquire into laughter solely in terms
of s scientific explanation, and, what is more important, we
inquire into seriousness just as we inquire into
explanations--solely because seriousness and explanation
botb possess a ['lpataphysical stigma" (1960b:176).
8 os se-de-~a~e utters a "tautological
monosyllable" (196) that resembles the phatic phrases of
Socratic dialogue, the interruption acting as a punctuating
gesture of both affirmation and confirmation:
Nage was to[ ...] interrupt our conversation, where a pause
might be convenient, with his interjections" (199-200)--each
of which provides a laughtrack for the reader:
(196). Bosse-de-Nage in this respect resembles what Serres
might call "the third position" (1982b:78), whose exclusion
provides the pretense for the continuation of communication.
l2~artian physics defines a fluid force as the
exception to what Deleuze and Guattari call the Cornpars, a
quantal geometry of position--the monadic stomicum (1987:
369). Venusian physics, however, defines a rigid mode1 as
the exception to what Deleuze and Guattari call the Dispars,
a fractal geometry of momentum--the nomadic clinarnen
(1987:370). As McCaffery argues: "[a]toms[...] are m eta-
sengsical olganizations of[ . ..]p urwly imaained matrter,
[...]and as such prlovyde a 'patarphynsicl solautiob to the
abysmaticx olf msterila division" (1997:13).
13~eleuze and Guattari auggest that royal sciences
dismiss nomad sciences as "prescientific or parascientific
or subscientific" (1987:367), even though both sciences do
involve a kind of gnostic initiation, with their own rites
of passage, their own legacies of magic, both resorting to
imaginary solutions for customary problems.
sciences involve procedures of deduction, induction, and
reproduction, for the sake of a general certitude, nomad
sciences involve procedures of abduction, seduction, and
transduction, for the sake of a special incertitude.
''serres argues that al1 laws for combining
(foedera coniunctorum) only arise after the fact of
combining (coniuncta foederum) so that , in ef fect , the
detection of order is simply the hindsight of chaos:
laws of nature corne from conjugation; there is no nature but
that of compounds.
In the same way, there are the laws of
putting together letters-atoms to produce a text.
laws, however, are only federation. The law repeats the
fact iteelf: while things are in the process of being
formed, the laws enunciate the federated." (1982:114)
'(~audrillard explains this idea by recount ing a
'pataphysical tale, i n which a rat has conditioned a
scientist to give it food whenever the rat has completed an
" [blased on tbis story you could
imagine, on the level of scientific observation, that the
experiment would have been faked-not
by the observer, but faked by the object, with the purpose
of amusement or vengeance[...], or better yet:
object only pretends to obey the laws of physics because it
gives so much pleasure to the observert' ( 1990 : 84-85 ) .
Italian Futurism: A 'Pataphvsics of Machinic Exception
"[~]utomatism always embodies an irrational
projection of consci~usness[..~.]~ There is
a complete ['jpataphysics of the object
awaiting description here, a science of
imaginary technical solutions."
" [Tl he unforeseen beast Clinamen e jaculated
ont0 the walls of its universe. tt
(Jarry 1965 : 238 )
The Machinic Future of Poetrj
Italian Futurists present the first case for the
surrationalism of the 'pataphysical, revising the structure
of exception in order to oppose the irrationalism of the
French Symbolists. Futurism responds to the avant-garde
pseudo-science of Jarry by inflecting the machinic
intensities of technological forms, arguing that exception
results from the collision of machines.
Futurism begins accidentally with such a mechanical
catastrophe: a carwreck that dramatizes the clinameq of a
swerve, complete with the anomalous intensity of its shock
(la scossa), its noise (le rumore), and its speed (la
Such an event implies that, from any havoc
wreaked by technology, there appears a route charted for
Such a 'pataphysical epistemology values the
uniqueness, if not the randomness, of surprise itaelf.
Marinetti aligns Futurism with the modern advent of a
cyborganic philosophy, in which an industry for hybridizing
the anthropic and the machinic might parallel an artistry
for hybridizing the poetic and the noetic:
with Mechanics in destroying the old poetry" (1991:75) since
"[wle want to make literature out of the life of a motor"
(95)--"[t]o listen to motors and to reproduce their
Futurism simply resorts to the
metaphor of the machine in order to depict metaphor as a
machine, arguing that, since "[nlothing is more beautiful
than a great humming central electric station[.. .,] panels
bristling with dials, keyboards, and shining commutators,"
literature must learn to embrace the novelty of such
"[tlhese panels are our only
models for the writing of poetry" (106).
Metaphor quite literally becomes a literary device, a
mechanical conveyance, whose meaning descends etymologically
(if not metaphorically) from the concept of vehicle (as the
Greek word, metapherein, "to transport," seems to suggest).
When Marinetti daims that "a roaring car[ ...]-- is more
beautiful than the Victors of Samothrace" (1991:49), he
begins to literalize this metaphorical equivalence between
the artiatry of a message and the industry of its transit. 1
If Futurism is the science that unleashes the accidental
potentials of such machinic novelty, does not Futurism
resemble the science by which Ubu might detonate his
mechanized automatons, the Palcontents
1s it not possible
to say in the spirit of Jarry that "'[plataphysics is the
science of these present or future beings and devices, along
with the power to use them" (1965:113)
Futurism transforms 'pataphysics into an a ~~lied
science, whose structure of exception has informed two kinds
of radical politics (be it Italian Fascism or Russian
Communism), both of which have responded poetically to the
machinery of industrial capitalism by trying to imagine a
revecsible transition from a poetrs about science to a
science of poetry.
This survey discusses such a sequence of
influence according to the metaphor of the accident, the
structure of an exception, in which the instruments of a
royal science are inadvertently set free by the experiments
of a nomad science (like the kind of extravagant speculation
seen later, for example, in the metamatics of Tinguely or
the carcrashes of Ballard):
delirious machinery that
revises the anomalos, the ssev~ia, and the clinamen through
its own machinic paralogy of shock, noise, and speed.
Marinetti drives an automobile recklessly in order to
declare that poetry must surrender itself to the Unknown:
"[such] words were scarcely out of my mouth when 1 spun my
car aroundl ...], and there, suddenly, were two cyclists
coming toward me, shaking their fists, wobbling like two
equally convincing but nevertheless contradictory arguments"
(1991:48). The cyclists pose a "stupid dilemma" (48),
requiring the motorist to swerve awey from them into a
ditch--an abject locale, where the poet in euphoria
proclairns a manifesto in favour of such disasters.
carcrash provides an allegory for an exorbitant spectacle of
avoidance, in which every poetic device must act like an
updated machine (a roadster) thet veers away from the
pass(ism- of an outdated vehicle (a bicycle): ''[ploetry must
be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces" (49).
Marinetti invokes the tropes of Jarry in order to fuse
science with poetry, but ironically enough, Jarry is himself
a notorious cyclist, who portrays a pair of supermen on
Christ racing uphill against a velocipede toward
a crucifixion (1965:124) and Marceuil racing overland
against a locomotive toward an electrocution (1964:79).
Marinetti seems to swerve from the path of such cyclists, as
if to deploy the 'pataphysics of Jarry in order to parody
the 'pataphysics of Jarry. Marinetti in effect dramatizes
the principle of Bloom that 'pataphysics is itself a science
of influence, insofar as Futurism must reverse the flou of
cause and effect, denouncing the nostalgia for a prototype
in order to replace it with the prognosis of an ectype.
antecedent device (the Futurist automobile) must evade the
obstacle of a precedent device (the Symbolist velocipede).
Burliuk has observed that, despite such antagonism,
"[elvery Symbolist has a Futurist tucked under his srrn"
(96)--particularly when we take into account that Jarry (a
friend to Symbolists) does indeed inspire Marinetti (an
enemy to Symbolists).
Both Futurism and Symbolism do
criticize science 'pataphysically by proposing a
synaesthetic transvaluation of rationalism, but Marinetti
must, nevertheless, insist upon staging a duel (if not a
race) between Futurism and Symbolism, given that he plays a
game of chicken in order to see which artist, which driver,
first loses the nerve to enact a collision between two
different categories of vehicle that can convey poetic
Marinetti values the sport of such a conflict, in
which his respect for a 'pataphysical precursor at the same
time clashes with his disdain for a 'pataphysical precursor.
Marinetti proclaims that "[wle have even dreamed of one
day being able to create a mechanical son, the fruit of pure
will, a synthesis of al1 the laws that science is on the
brink of discovering" (1991:83). Evoking the story of
Frankenstein, in which the creator (a prototype) and the
monster (an ectype) transpose their roles through a
precession of simulacra, Futurism strives to imagine its own
brand of celibate creation. Whereas Jarry is perhaps the
kind of robot child that Marinetti wishes to father, Jarry
is in fact the father of the robot child that Marinetti is.
As Jarry observes, "[tlhe Machine is born of the ashes of
the slave" ( 1965: 112 ) . Like a dangerous supplement that
almost anticipates the McLuhanite theory of auto-emendation
and auto-amputation, a machinic tool in the future augments,
then replaces, an anthropic limb in the past.
Marinetti demands that this hybrid device of machinic
metaphors must forge the industries of tomorrow in order to
abolish the forgeries of yesterday.
Futuriem must practice
a "hygienic forgetfulness" (1991:105) that amounts to a
literal breakins of records (in both senses of the term),
destroying not only standards for performance, but also
histories of performance, not only ascending past a limit
(with ever more energy), but also rescinding the limit that
is the past (with ever less rnemory).
Futurism disavows the
~assbisrn of an obsolete technique for the sake of a
synchronistic disappearance, advocating the destruction of
museums, for example, on the assumption that they are
nothing more than the "absurd abattoirs of painters and
sculptors ferociously macerating each other with color-blows
and line-blows, the length of the fought-over walls" ( 49 ) .
Futurism in effect aspires to imitate the machinic
graffiti of Faustroll, who devastates a museum with "the
Painting Machine," a revolving gyroscope that whirls at
randorn through "the Palace of Machines," mechanically
"it dashed itself against the
pillars , swayed and veered in inf initely varied directions,
and followed its own whim in blowing ont0 the walls' canvas
the succession of primary colors ranged according to the
tubes of- its stomach" (1965:238).
The Painting Machine
(which actuslly bears the name Clinamen) prefigures the
'pataphysical technologies of Tinguely (particularly the
metamatic entitled Homaae to New York, a calliope for
painting pictures at random while destroying itself inside
the Museum of Modern Art).
Such a device swerves through an
aesthetic tradition, wreaking havoc upon its artifacts.
Tinguely builds devices that fuse the detritus of both
artistry and industry into an assemblage of incompatible
accessories, al1 of which sabotage their own instrumentality
(as if to suggest that, like a 'pataphysical science, such a
technological machine generates itself from excess debris
used, capriciously and incompatibly, to generate more excess
debris) .' What Tinguely regards as a " joyful" machine
(Hulten 56) is merely the product of what Nietzsche regards
as a "joyful" science.
The machinic delirium of such
epistemic vandalism signifies a cornpetition between poetic
tropes that collide and collude in order to create the
clinamen of an artistic accident--an event that sets free
each part of the device itself (including its user). As
Tinguely might claim, such a "machine is[ ...] an instrument
that allows me to be poetic" (Hulten 56).
Fascism Versus Communism
Shershenevich observes that "[tlhe Futurists do not
take you %O,'
but tfrom"' so that "the cannonball, once
fired, gets wild and describes a curve (excesses[ ...])," its
detours always leading away f rom the capitalist ic
philistinism of the bourgeoisie (153-154). Whether Italian
or Russian, both pedigrees of Futurism have reacted
'pataphysically to the age of industrial automation by
divorcing the project of science from the program of
capital, doing so through the politics of either Fascism or
Communism (even though both of these political movements
have generally dismissed Futurisrn in favour of a bourgeois
aesthetic: realism itself). Like the Painting Machine,
Futurism unleashes uncontrollable potentialities, waging s
randorn battle, in which a subaltern science of experimental
reason subverts a dominant science of instrumental reason.
Careening through the archive of history, the clinamen
of 'pataphysics precipitates a cyclical reversa1 of
influence so that, as Khlebnikov might argue, "science is
now following the path that language has already taken"
( 378 ) . Poetry inspires a scientif ic endeavour that poetry
in turn becomes.
Just as Jarry inspires Marinetti (whose
poetry evades a French precursor), so also do the Italian
Futurists inspire the Russian Futurists (whose poetry evades
an Italian precursor); moreover, the Russian Futurists go on
to inspire the Russian Formalists (whose science is based
upon a Futurist precursor), just as the Russian Formalists
go on to inspire the French Structuralists (whose science is
based upon a Formalist precursor). For Futurism, these
ironic cycles of recursive influence merely comprise an
evasive history of warfare without any unilinear intention.
Marinetti claims that such warfare is itself "Futurism
intensif ied" ( 1991 : 131 )--perhaps because (as Deleuze and
Guattari might suggest), war is the su~~lement of a marginal
episteme, occurring wherever a royal science clashes with a
nomad science ( 1987 : 355 ) :
the former, building implements
(which control energy through instrumental tasks); the
latter, building srmaments (which unleash energy through
experirnental risks) .' While Benjamin argues thst , for such
radical warfare, "alienation has reached such a degree that
it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic
pleasure" (242), the very sesthetic that has served what he
vilifies (Fascisrn) has at the same time served what he
endorses (Communism). More hyperbolic than antonyrnic in its
logic, Futurism counteracts the atrocity of capitalist
automation with an even greater atrocity.
Heidegger observes thst the millenary problem of
technology, the danger of the Ge-stell (421, always already
involves an imaginary solution throuah technology: ie.
every problem implies a fatefül paradox, since the solution
to such a problem ie itself a problem of the ~roblem.' The
potential for a transition from danger to safety stems from
the insight of a clinamen, a turning away that is itself an
Einkehr an "in-turning," if not an Einblitz, an "inflashing"
(41): "[plerhaps we stand already in the shadow
cast ahead by the advent of this turningW--"[wJhen and hou
it [cornes] to pass after the manner of a destining no one
knows" (41) because "[tlhe turning of the danger cornes to
pass suddenly" (44)--as if by accident.
studies the exception of such accidents (in order to traffic
in the secret order of their conceits).
'Pataphysics regards the insight, the Einblitz, of such
accidents as a collision between two alien orders that
compare tbeir disparate events and exchange their desperate
images in a mutual clash of misprision.
For Marinetti, the
accident of such a clinamen becomes a dynamic synonym for an
epiphany, an Einkehr, that contributes to the cataclysm of a
self-propelled self--the automobilitv, not only of a device,
but also of its driver.
For Marinetti, the carcrash that
gives birth to Futurism merely enacts the anomalous
intensity of such an insight by providing the basis in the
future fer an imaginary philosopby of 'pataphysical
speculations. As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, "there are
itinerant, ambulant sciences that consist in followina a
flou in a vectorial field across which sin~ularities are
scattered like so manv 'accidents' (problems)" (1987:372).
Paradigms in Collision
Ballard has, of course, extended this 'pataphysical
speculation of Marinetti to its most baroque extreme by
imagining a future science, in which automobile collisions
can reveal a portent about the exceptional spontaneity of
Dissecting accidents with the precision
of a scientist, Ballard stages an "atrocity exhibition" ( 9),
in which a car, like the vehicle of metaphor itself, becomes
aesthetic only when it is also ballistic.'
along a route (as a mode of transportation) must succumb to
a dysfunction along a detour (as a mode of transformation).
For Baudrillard, such a vehicle travels "a path leading more
quickly than the main rosd, or leading where the main road
does not lead or, better yet, and to parody ~ittrg in a
['lpataphysical mode, 'a path leading nowhere, but leading
there faster than the others"'
Baudrillard observes that, for Ballard, "the Accident
is everywhere" since "[ilt is no longer the exception to a
triumphal rationality, it has become the Rule, it has
devoured the Rulew--"[i]t is no longer even the taccursed
share,' the one conceded to destiny by the system itself";
instead, "[elverything is reversed" (1994b:113). The
accident reveals a 'pataphysical promiscuity between
uncorrelated occurrences--their ability to collide on a whim
into a potential infinity of exceptional permutations:
"[ilt is the Accident that gives form to life, it is the
Accident[ ...] that is the sex of life" (113).
is "[tlhe only strategy[ ...] of [']pataphysics[ ...]; that is,
a science-fiction of the system's reversal against itself at
the extreme limit of simulation, a reversible simulation in
a hyperlogic of death and destruction" (1993a:4-5).
Ballard has implied that, for Jarry, such collisions
almost reveal an economy of coincidental synchronicity where
unrelated incidents relate to each other as if in a poetic
for example, "Christ's crucifixion could be
regarded as the first traffic accident-certainly
accept Jarry's happy piece of anti-clericalism" (1990:25).
Jarry compares the golgotha (with its stations of the
crucifix) to a velodrome (with its pitstops for a bicycle),
subjecting the story of Christ to a clinamen, equating the
crucifixion with a "deplorable accident" in a bikerace
(1965:124), just as Ballard subjects this story by Jarry to
a clinameq, equating the assassination of Kennedy with a
"deplorable incident" in an autorace ( 1990 : 108 ).' Indeed,
the very correlation between these two writers almost seems
to dramatize their thematization of accidental coincidence.
Jarry and Ballard in both cases depict a statesman's
death as a sportsman's event, insofar as a vehicular
collision occurs, not only between two racers on a course,
but also between two genres of speech, if not between two
e~ochs of poetry.
Like Jarry, Ballard tells a 'pataphysical
story that swerves away from a metaphysicsl history, but
like Marinetti, Ballard also tells a 'pataphysical story
that swerves away from a 'pataphysical history.
of swerve involve the sudden excursion away from the
influential through an execution of the influentiab-the
regicide, so to speak, of either a messiah or a monarch.
What Futurism regards as the hygiene of warfare refers to
this conflict in the anxiety of influence, a conflict in
which the poet stages a militant accident, pitting one
technique, one "technology," against another.
Futurism resorts to the clinamen of such accidents1
collisions in order to divert the anxiety of influence into
the ecstasy of exception, Such a clinameq transforms the
Oedipal metaphysics of ressentiment into the non-Oedipal
'pataphysics of divertissement.
The Oedipal subject is
atomized and dispersed in a traject rather than localized
and coalesced around an object.
The royal monument of the
ego merges with the nomad movement of a car so that, in
effect, the auto of the self is propelled into its o wn
The clinamen of this subjective dispersion evokes a
cyborganic schizonoia7--what Marinetti might cal1
fisicofollia, or "body-madness" (1991:128), the ecstasy of a
'pataphysicisn, for whom " [tlhis new drama of Futurist
surprise and geometric splendor is a thousand times more
interesting[ . . . ) than human psychology" ( 106 ) .
Marinetti equates the force of industrial automation
with the violent desires of the unconscious itself--the
ecstasy of a machinic accident that has corne to dramatize
the svzv~ia of both the erotic and the necrotic:
they ssy, are truly mysterious" for "[tlhey have whims,
freakish impulses" (1991:99), expressing the kind of
libidinal intensity seen, for example, in the autoerotic
accidents described by Ballard.
Futurism imagines an
impossible technology, in which every device is a sex-toy
that can destroy thought itself (not unlike les machines
malthusiennes of Jarry or les machines cglibataires of
What such ' pataph~sicians have called "bachelor
machines-," Deleuze and Guattari have called "desiring-
machines" (1983:l)--deviant devices, whose extravagance
evokes al1 the ecstatic tortures of shock, noise, and speed.
The Shock of Exception
Carrouges suggests that "[al bachelor machine is first
of al1 an improbable machine" (1975:21), an apparatus of
"felvery bachelor machine is first of al1 a
['Ipataphysical machine, or a patamachine" (44). Such an
apparatus does not repeat any mode1 of the erotic in which
the erotic becomes a means to repeat:
"the bachelor machine
is the erotic form of malthusianism" insofar as the device
perverts the values of functional repetition, opposing al1
forms of love that provide an alibi for replicative
engineering. Whether electric or artistic, the shock (la
scossa) generated by such 8 device short-circuits the laws
that forbid perpetual motion and libidinal action.
bachelor machines inflict the shock of a nomad science upon
the mastery of devices:
the royal mandate, not only to
construct a machine, but also to determine its purpose.
Duchamp has, of course, provided the seminal pretext
for such a machine in his vitreal diptych, The Bride
Strip~ed Bare BY Her Bachelors. Even--a window, through
which voyeurs might witness a saderotic collision, postponed
in the hyperspace of an alternate dimension:
panel depicting the Bride (built £rom Draft Pistons fuelled
by the combustion of an ecstatic gasoline); the lower panel
depicting the Bachelors (built from Malic Moulds attached to
an array of diverse devices:
a Water Wheel, a Chocolate
Grinder, a Butterfly Pump, etc.).
Jerry-rigged from Jarry-
rigged ideas, this blueprint of schizoid gadgetry dramatizes
the shock of coincidental correlations (the clinsmen of
which is only highlighted by the fact that the glass itself
has since become riven with cracks--the result of a jolt
suffered during vehicular transport).
Anastasi suggests that Duchamp uses this machine to
perform a clinamen upon the devices of Jarry.
Just as Jarry
deploys the electric-chair of The Supermale in order to
imagine a pseudo-science of perpetual motion, so also does
Duchamp resort to the electric-motor of The Bachelors in
order to imagine a pseudo-science of libidinal action--the
as if of what Duchamp might cal1 a science of hs~o~hvsics
Such a science permits Duchamp to regard
each of his own impossible hypotheses as an, otherwise
imaginable, condition that has merely become detached from
the alternate dimension of its own possibility:
" 1 was
interested in introducing [into rny work] the
precise[...Jaspect of science," but "[ijt wasn't for love of
science that 1 did this; on the contrary, it was rather in
order to discredit it, mildly, lightly, unimportantly" ( 39).
Carrouges has suggested that such a science plots the
fantastic inversion of an Oedipal dynamic, since the Bride,
not the Bachelor, acts as a saderotic superego that tortures
a masochist id (1954:45); however, Szeemann observes that
"the Bachelor Machiner. . . ]as suggested by Carrouges [ has] in
part been vehemently rejected by the 'pataphysicians on
account of the 'upper inscription' which exerts an influence
on the Bachelors and determines their fate" (11).
still deploys an Oedipal paradigm to describe what Deleuze
and Guattari insist is an non-Oedipal artifice: "[a]
genuine consummation is achieved by the new machine, a
pleasure that can be rightly called autoerotic, or rather
automatic: the nuptial celebration of a new alliance, a new
birth[ . . .] , as though the eroticism of the machine liberated
other unlimited forces" (1983:18). 8
Bachelor machines amplify la scossa of sensation to a
nullpoint of synaesthetic indifference where any hierarchy
of experience, be it torture or ecstasy, disappears
altogether, giving rise instead to an infinitive series of
positive traits that never express a definitive system with
Machines with such freedom never have to
prove their ability, since they fulfill no real purpose, no
For this reason, Brock suggests that such
'pataphysial instruments constitute the machinic solution to
a chimeric problem:
they are "mental machines the imaginary
working of which suffices to produce a real movement of the
mind" ( 44 ) , and " [ t ] O operate the world of Bachelor Machines
means taking the world only as we perceive it" (81),
regarding reality, not as a metsphysical substance, but as a
'pataphysical superf ice:
a (dis )simulation.
Certeau suggests that, within such a paralogy, bachelor
machines perform their ecstatic tortures not upon a victim
so much as upon a medium, the shocking violence acted out
not semantically beyond language, but syntactically within
language (88)--against the very machinery of language,
challenging the productive capacity of this machine to
displey the world of the as is, while emphasizing the
seductive capacity of this machine to invent a world of the
Lyotard makes a similar argument when he claims that
the bachelor machine inhabits an imaginary dimension of
dissimulating machinations, providing the basis for a
sophistic alternate to metaphysics itself:
"we have to
choose which camp to be in, as did[...]Jarry[.,,]and
the Sophists against the Philosophers, [,..]the
Bachelor machines against industrial mechanics" (1990:49).
Lyotard argues that such a device does not exploit
nature through a use (as gadgetry does) nor does such a
device destroy nature through a war (as weaponry does);
instead, such a device entraps nature through an art--the
deception of simulation: "it plays a trick on these forces,
being itself less strong than they are, and making real this
monstrosity: that the less strong [must] be stronger than
what is stronger" (l990:42). The word "machine," in fact,
stems from the Latin word machina, meaning "trickeryl'--a
device to deceive, as if the machine reveals that, for the
as if, al1 orders are invertible and al1 series are
reversible: " [ t ]O every discourse there must be another
opposing it in a rigourously parallel manner, but leading to
the opposite conclusion: sophistics is above al1 the art of
making these[ ... ] duplicitous speeches, dissoi logoi" (47). 9
Marinetti demands that such a poetic wisdorn create the
kind of "matter whose essence must be grasped by strokes of
intuition, the kind of thing that the physicists and
chemists can never do" (1991:95) because, "[dlespite the
most skillful deformations, the syntactic sentence always
contains-a scientificl ...]p erspective absolutely contrary to
the[ . . . jemotional perspective" ( IO8 ).
Science has often
resorted to a grammatical rationality, in which the
literary-line of poetry must become the assembly-line of
science, but Futurism renounces this linear syntax for the
sake of a "freespeechl' (la parole in liberttk) that no longer
serves this industrial mechanics. Such an imagination
without puppetstrings (l'immaginazione senza fili) no longer
follows the "wire" of syntax, but instead mimicks the noise
of radiostatic as transmitted by a haywired wireless.
The Noise of Exception
Deleuze and Guattari argue that, because "[dlesiringmachines
work only when they break down, and by continually
breaking down" (1983:8), such machines always constitute a
system of interruptions, in which every component behaves
like a clinamen:
"[ejvery machine functions as a break in
the flow in relation to the machine to which it is
connected, but at the s ame time is also a flow itself[ . . . ]in
relation to the machine connected to it" (36). What Deleuze
and Guattari define in terms of mechanical disruption,
Serres might define in terrns of a cyborganic parasitism,
since both concepts signify a "noisiness," whose interferent
perturbance, not only subverts the redundancy, but also
enriches-the complexity, of any system (be it the mathetic
codes of cornputers, the semiotic codes of societies, or even
the biologic codes of lifeforms). 1 O
Serres deploys such tropes in his own effort to insist
that, ultimately, "[nloise is the basic element of the
software of al1 our logic" (1995:7). Noise is intrinsic to
every system that regards it as extrinsic to its own system:
in other words, "science is its own noise with itself, it
produces its noise from itself" (136), doing so until it
cannot hear its own noise, let alone its own words, because
of al1 the noise that it makes through the controversies of
"noise[ ...] is at the boundaries of
physics, and physics is bathed in it" (13-14). Noise
provides a metaphor for the as if of al1 that is possible,
It denotes the Traumwelt of a (~arakite--a
marginal location where a nomad science attacks a royal
science: there, a machinic praxis always arises, as if by
chance, from a machinic parapraxis.
Futurism values such mechanized parasitism, insofar as
Marinetti argues that, just as "[m]icrobes[ ...] are essential
to the health of the intestines," so also is there "a
microbe essential to the vitality of art" (1991:97).
Futurism equates this microbe with the parasite of a
clinamen--the ' pataphysical turbulence of noise ( le rumore).
Unlike 'metaphysics, which values music, not noise, in the
syntax of reason, 'pataphysics inverts this system of
values, equating le rurnore with the novelty of snomaly-
hence, we see the use of onomatopoeia in the poetry of
Marinetti, who mimics the kind of symphonic cacophony that
Russolo, the Futurist composer, evokes with his own
"machines create today such a large number of
varied noises that pure sound, with its littleness and its
monotony, now fails to arouse any emotion" ( 5 ) .
Marinetti thus attempts to arouse such emotion with an
automated invective that abolishes standard grsmmar in order
to evoke the "zang-tuuum tuuumb orchestra of the noises of
wsr swelling with anger under a note of silence" (1987:79).
Just as Marinetti privileges telegrammatic abbreviations
enhanced by such sound-effects as "2000 steam pregnancies
tata~loomploom flac flac" ( 1987: 63) ,11
so also does Russolo
replace the antiquated repertoire of symphonic sonograms
with "the rumblings and rsttlings of engines breathingt ...],
the rising and falling of pistons, the stridency of
mechanical saws" (8). Such noise is more surrational than
irrational, providing the basis for what Khlebnikov might
cal1 the zaum of a "transrational" language (the zaumn~i
iazsk) --not nonsense, but " beyonsensef1--a "language si tuated
beyond the boundaries of ordinary reason" (383).
Khlebnikov suggests that, for science, the noisiness of
zaum can no longer be dismissed as an exceptional
"[tJhe plenitude of language must be analyzed
in terms of fundamental units of 'alphabetic verities,' and
then for these sound elements we may be able to construct
something resembling ~endeleev's law or Moseley's law--the
latest achievements of the science of chemistry" (376).
Like the rumore of Italian Futurism, the zaum of Russian
Futurism not only attempts to disrupt the basis for a royal
science of the past, but also attempts to provide the basis
for a nomad science of the future.
Zaum in effect attempts
to transmit the noise, le rumore, of the bachelor machines
in order to produce a concomitant 'pataphysics for such
linguistic technology. What is noise in the paradigm of
nostalgia is music in the paralogy of prognosis.
Tynyanov observes that the zaum of Russian Futurists
might provide the poetic foundation for the noetic
enterprise of the Russian Formalists (who resort to such
poetry for examples of concepts that science might deploy in
the study of poetry itself) (153). Formalism almost verges
upon the 'pataphysical insofar as its scientif ic evaluation
of poetry privileges the novelty of anomaly--the surprising
noises in the alienation effect of ostranenie.
Futurism, such Formalism tries to use the language of
scientific rnethodology in order to examine the neglected
machinery of language itself, not the word as sign, but the
word as such (slovo kak takavoe). Such a machine embodies a
'pataphysical retroversion that does not simply use its
devices to convey a narrative meaning, but uses such meaning
as an excuse to deploy innovative devices.
Tynyanov almost appears to advocate a 'pataphysical
literariness when he suggests that, "if new phenomena are to
emerge in literature, what is needed is relentless
intellectual activity, and belief in it, together with the
scientific processing of material-even
if such work is
unacceptable to science" (153). Tynyanov observes, for
example, that Khlebnikov often resorts to the clinamen of a
scientific misprision in order to generate the novelty of
"[ploetry is close to science in its
methods--this is what Khlebnikov teaches" (153)--"[m]inor
mistakes, 'chance features,' explained by the old academics
as a deviation caused by incomplete experimentation, serve
as a catalyst for new discoveries:
what was explained by
'incomplete experimentation' turns out to be the action of
unknown lawstl ( 150 ) .
Tynyanov implies that "[ploetry must be as open as
science is in facing phenomena" so that "when it cornes
across a 'chance feature,' it must reorganise itself so that
the chance feature ceases to be chance" (154).
also argues that " [a] misprint, born involuntarily frorn the
typesetter's will, suddenly gives meaning to a new entity;
it is one of the forms of collective creativity and may thus
be hailed as a desirable assistance to the artist" (381-
382). Such a clinamen draws attention to the material
nature of a semantic medium, revealing, for example, a
'pataphysical resemblance between syntax and optics, the
letter Z depicting "the equality of the angle of incidence
to the angle of reflection" (338)--almost as if the clinamen
is itself a flash of deviant insight, whose tropes of
deflection and refraction take place at the speed of light.
The Speed of Exception
Baudrillard observes that, for 'pataphysics, history
escapes from the gravity of the real in order to experience
what Virilio might cal1 "dromomania" (4)--the ecstatic
velocity of simulation. Marinetti dramatizes such a
millenial principle of 'pataphysics, insofar as he exalts la
velocitk of the clinamen and the highspeed collision of its
"[olne must kneel before the whirling
speed of- a gyroscope compass:
20,000 revolutions per
minute" (1991:104); "[olne must snatch from the stars the
secret [that might] let us match their speeds to escape from
a greeter star or to strike a smaller one" (104). The
rotary engine of such a per~etuum mobile calls to mind the
physick-stick in Jarry or the turning-bar in Lyotard-
devices that promise to break the second leu of thermo-
dynamics through an infinitized expenditure of energy. 12
Jarry deploys the trope of such a pervetuum mobile in
order to depict the allegorical competition between two
genres of dromomanic technology: a bicycle-tesm and an
express-train--the former representing the art of what Jarry
might call "old cyclophile hagiographers" (1965:123); the
latter representing the art of what Marinetti might call
"the great Futurist Railroad' (1991:55), such a race
demonstrates the efficacy of Perpetual Motion Food, "a fuel
for the human machine that [might] indefinitely delay[ ...]
nervous fatigue, repairing it as it is spent" (1964:4).
Such a race provides an allegory for the triumph of science
over its own entropic necrosis.
Just as the cyclist, who is
a cadaver, can nevertheless pedal faster than ever, despite
having expired, so also does science represent a vertiginous
expenditure that thrives paradoxically upon its own decline.
Jarry and Marinetti equate the as if of such a
dromomanic technology with a scientific revolution, whose
history defies the royal order of causality itself.
Inspired by Wells, for example, Jarry describes "[a] Machine
to isolete us from Duration" (1965:115)--a time-machine,
whose three gyrostats rotate so fast that they immobilize
the mechanism in the hyperspace of an alternate dimension.
While Jarry may indulge in 'pataphysical speculations about
the manufacture of such a bachelor machine, the device can
exist only in the interzone of a surrational imagination.
Such a device strives to provide irnaginary solutions to its
own problematic temporality.
Just as Cubism depicts objects
from several positions at once in order to defy the limits
of space, so also does Futurism imagine objects from several
momentums at once in order to defy the limits of time.
Wells observes that "[wle cannot[ ...] appreciate this
machine, any more than we can the spoke of a wheel spinning,
or a bullet flying through the air," for "fiIf it is
travelling through tirne[ . . . ] a hundred times faster than we
are, if it gets through a minute while we get through a
second, the impression it creates [must] of course be
only[..,]one-hundredth of what it[ ...] make[sJ if it [is] not
travelling in tirne" ( 36-37 ) . The time-machine reduces
history itself to a state of synchronistic disappearance (as
if to suggest that, because kinesic realism relies upon
periodic lapses of attention at a constant speed of
movement, the world of existence arises only from our own
persistence of vision).
The time-machine almost resembles a
film-machine, insofar as both kinds of device can depict
plural instants of motion within a single picture of events.
Marinetti recognizes that the dromomania of such
cinematic machinery can provide Futurism with "a prodigious
sense of simultaneity and omnipresence" (1991:138).
thus becomes the most poetically privileged genre of speed.
Like Balla and carrà, whose Futurist paintings almost
resemble the chronophotogrsphy of Jules-Marey, Marinetti
attempts to transform a diachronic sequence into a
synchronic continuum, breaking the filmic syntax of a
series, in order to perform the linguistic equivalent of a
jump-cut or a stop-trick (as if la velocitk itself can
dematerialize the diarnetry of reality, producing the ef fect
of the svzsaia, the plus-sign and the minus-sign blurring
together in the gyroscopic revolution of its physick-stick):
this is hou we decompose and recomPose the universe
accordina to our marvellous whims ( 142). 13
Marinetti suggests that to be fast results in the
"intuitive synthesis" of rectilinear forms (the prognosis of
straight lines), whereas to be slow results in the "rational
analysis" of curvilinear forms (the nostalgia of undulant
lines) (1991:103). Blind to the fractals of tomorrow,
Marinetti aligns the futurity of velocity with a royal genre
he does not see that, while the extremes of
velocitk may permit the future to outrace the past, such
speed always risks the accident of a clinameq, in which a
forward vector swerves into a backward vortex ( particularly
when we consider that, for quantum physics, even maximized
speeds promise to diverge into an involuted theory).
travels very fast (but not above the l i m i t of light), one
travels into the future, but if one travels even faster
( bevond the l i m i t of light ) , one travels into t he past.
Jarry argues that such time-travel occurs only within
the surreality of the as if:
"the Machine can reach the
real Past only after having passed through the Future" since
"it must go through a point symmetrical to our Present, a
dead center between future and past, and which can be
designated precisely as the Imabinar~ Present" (1965:121).
The Machine has two pasts, not only the one preceding its
invention, but also the one preceding its operation--which
is to say, "the past created by the Machine when it returns
to our Present and which is in effect the reversibility of
the Future" ( 121 ) . The "Futurismtf of such 'pataphysics
operates paradoxically in the tense of the post modo, the
Futurist-moving forward, forgetting the past, only by moving
backward, revisiting the past, as if "[dluration is the
tranformation of a succession into a reversion" (121).
Baudrillard suggests that, " [wlhen light is captured
and swallowed by its own source, there is then a brutal
involution of time into the event itselfff (1990:17). Such a
singularity constitutes a "[clatastrophe in the literal
the[ ...] curve that has its origin and end coincide
in one[...], yielding to an event without precedent and
without consequences--[a] pure event," one whose reality
disappears through a simulacre1 precession (1990:17).
'Pataphysics suggests that " [slpeed itself is doubtless only
throughout and beyond al1 technology, the temptation
for things and people to go faster than their cause, to
thereby catch up to their beginning and annul it" (162).
Futurism is thus the effect of a paradoxical temporality, in
which Marinetti reverses his relation to Jarry so that
'pataphysics might originate in the future, not in the past.
The Chimeric Science of the Future
Futurism almost begins to propose for poetry the same
kind of molecular revolution that Deleuze and Guattari later
propose for science. Marinetti imagines a machinic paralogy
that examines the unique specificity of matter and the
absurd singularity of its events without resorting to
"[ble careful not to force human
feelings ont0 matter" ; instead, "divine its dif ferent
governing impulses, its forces of compression, dilation,
cohesion, and disaggregation, its crowds of massed molecules
and whirling electrons"; after all, ltwe are not interested
in offering dramas of humsnized matter" (1991: 95) .l'
such a dehumanized sensibility, the cyborganism of
'pataphysics must play itself out both peneticallv and
genericallv so that any hybrid of the anthropic and the
machinic parallels the hybrid of the poetic and the noetic.
Marinetti argues that "a strip of steel interests us
for itself; that is, the[. ..]nonhuman alliance of its
molecules or its electrons" (1991:95), and thus, "[tlo the
conception of the imperishablel ...], we oppose, in art, that
of[ ...] the perishable, the transitory" (75) since "matter
has an admirable continuity of impulse toward[...]greater
movement, a greater subdivision of itself" ( 5). I5
subscribes to an atomist dynamic of becoming, in which the
machine does not represent the universe as a mechanismic
assembly-line of causes and effects (each event, a reprise
in the plan of its engineer); instead, such a machine
represents the universe as a cyborganismic fracture-plane of
forces and energy (each event, a surprise to the bias of its
The universe is simply a celibste creation for
finding out what happens next:
it is a surprise-machine.
Marinetti hopes to evoke a molecular revolution that
might take the 'pataphysical epistemology of Jarry by
surprise, augmenting its declensions of exception through
the machinic paralogy of shock, noise, and speed.
resorts to 'pataphysics in order to revise 'pataphysics,
doing so in order to imagine the as if of s future in which
poetry can instigate a science, whose "lyric equations"
(1991:lll) might in turn explain poetry itself. The Italian
Futurists are among the first to posit such a grammatical
algebra, just as the French Oulipians later posit their own
procedural calculus, but whereas the Italian 'pataphysicians
do so by referring to the hardware of a technological form
(ie. the play of concrete machines), the French
'pataphysicians do so by referring to the software of a
numerological form (ie. the play of abstract machines).
Futurism ultimately postulates an applied science of
poetic theories, in which poetry itself is an accidental
instrument for a scientific experiment.
observes that, in ef fect, Futurism dreams of "a future
era[ ...] where scientific laboratories are run by astrologers
and chiromantists" (143)--'pataphysical sophisters that
parody metaphysical physicists.
Graal-Arelsky observes in
turn that, for Futurism, "[slcience turns out to be
relative, like everything else" since "[tlhe world which
rules in our intellect is not real, but imaginary" (Ill),
emerging, in effect, from our own 'pataphysical
Such an avant-garde pseudo-SC ience reveal s
that the Future is nothing more than a poetic notion that
provides an absurd domain for the epistemic fantasies of
the as if of its own science-fiction.
Notes to Chapter 3
l~etamatics built by Tinguely do not embody the
disciplinary model of Henry Ford (in which a machine merely
enacts an efficient, predictable series of command), but the
undisciplinary model of Rube Goldberg ( in which a machine
enacts an inefficient, unpredictable chance for freedom).
Metamatics simply dramatize a principle of uncertainty, as
if to demonstrate that (despite Newton and Laplace) the
universe itself does not run as a clockwork mechanism, but
perhaps resembles a mechanized assemblage of mismatched
components, in which gears slip and fuses blow, etc.
'~uturism recognises that the machine appears as
a 'pataphysical technology wherever monomachy intersects
with dramaturgy in a theatre of warfare--not
only in the
arena of siegecraft (e.g. the deadfall, the pittrap), but
also in the arena of stagecraft (e.g. the guywire, the
trapdoor). For Futurism, the accident constitutes the deus
ex machine of either a surprise attack (in warfare) or a
suprise ending (in theatre)--a blitzkrie~ of form, in which
the invention of the military engineer merges with the
deception of the lighting engineer.
3~uturism suggests that a weapon simply embodies
yet another genre of expression:
be it a missile or a
missive, there is always a weapon wherever a utensil is set
free. Atomic weapons, after all, have slmost become the
acme of aesthetic achievement because, like fine art
(slushfunded by the government and stockpiled in
warehouses), such works function as the absolute excess of a
technical sublime, which, if ever allowed to be deployed as
intended, can only result in the kind of dernolition that art
itself has demanded at the extreme of its social revolt.
'~eleuze writes that, "for both Jarry and
Heidegger, Being shows itself in technology by the very fact
that it withdraws from it:
"what defines the loss of Being
is rather the forgetting of forgetting, the withdrawal of
withdrawal" but "this can on19 be comprehended ['lpataphysically[
...,] not metaphysically," and "[tlhis is why Ubu
invents ['Ipataphysics at the same tirne as he promotes
planetary technology" since "it is the culmination of
metaphysics in technology that makes possible the overcoming
of metaphysics, that is, ['Ipataphysics" (1997:93).
allard rd dissects these iron collisions of
automobiles with the cool precision of a scientist,
depicting the accident as a kind of crashtest for a
pornofilm (in the vein of Cronenberg)--an event in which the
obscenitg of a message coincides with the obscenity of its
transit. Like an automobile, literature exerts its beauty
only when its speed risks the threat of a crash--the
transitive verging into the intransitive so that, as Virilio
might observe, th9 armoured chauffeur mistakes the ability
to travel freely for the ability to attack freely (1986:27).
hrry writes: "Pilate gave the send-off. Jesus
got away to a good start[....] [A]ccording, to the excellent
sports commentator St. Matthew, it was customary to
flagellate the sprinters at the start the way a coachman
whips his horses[.. ..] Jesus[...]had a flat right away"
(1965:122). Ballard, likewise, writes: "Oswald was the
starter. From his window above the track he opened the race
by firing the starting gun.
It is believed that the first
shot was- not properly heard by al1 the drivers[ , . . . ] .
Kennedy got off to a bad start" (1990:108).
'~arinetti imagines that the poetry of Futurisrn
can create a schizo cyborg:
a "multiplied man who mixes
himself with iron" (1991:75). Harraway observes that, while
such a cyborg has heretofore dramatized a royal science of
interdiction (in which the subject becomes an instrument),
the cyborg can nevertheless dramatize a nomad science of
contradiction (in which the subject becomes an experiment)
(181): the former science making humanity subordinate to a
rational machine; the latter science making humanity
inordinate to an irrational machine.
'~eleuze and Guattari argue that " [ t ] he celibate
machine first al1 reveals the existence of a much older
paranoiac machine, with its tortures, its[ ...] shadows"
(1983:18); however, such a mechanism does not manage the
judgemental being of a retributive law (be it the Father,
God, or Oedipus); instead, the mechanism mismanages the
fundamental becoming of a distributive art, freeing the
manufacturing of the drives from any desire for a despot of
desire, because (as Deleuze observes) "[tjhe unconscious is
an orphan, an atheist and a bachelor" (Carrouges 1975:19).
9~yotard suggeste that such machines valorize the
incommensurabilities of the paralogical and the paradoxical,
neither cancelling nor surpassing the synthesis of the
"[tlhere is the adversary of Bachelor
machination, conviction, another word for the concubinage of
dissimilarst' ( 1990: 49). Bachelor machines dramatize the
sszsgia of the this and the not-this, continually inverting
a dyadic hierarchy, while momentarily subverting its mutual
exclusion, al1 the while resisting a totalizing commitment
to the metaphysics of the Aufhebung.
''~audrillard argues that , for the postmodern
condition of 'pataphysics, these three domains of thought
al1 intersect in the concept of the parasite, the virus,
whose protean rupture has now subsumed the form of al1
potential accidents, be they biologic diseases, mathetic
glitches, or even semiotic heresies (1993b:69),
enough, such a viral trope hss in turn become parasitic
itself, insofar as the concept has proliferated throughout
every system so successfully that its ambiguity now acts as
a kind noisiness that interferes with its own reference.
'l~uturism suggeats that just as Marconi might use
the radio to set words free from the limits of the voice in
both space and time so also does Marinetti use the
"freespeech' of parole in libertk to speed up his words to
the speed of the radio, doing so through the commutative
force of performative speech:
for example, the typography
of a text must imitate in print the content of its semantics
through s formal prosopopoeia, just as the sonography of a
text must imitate in sound the content of its semantics
through a forma1 onomatopoeia (1991:108-log),
"~achelor machines privilege becoming over being.
Such devices do not
"isorrhesis" of the
movement, either by
embody what Serres might cal1 the
stator, an engine that cancels its own
diminishing its energy or by strivin~
toward its most optimal psradigm (the reprise of an old
motion); instead, such devices embody what Serres might cal1
the "homeorrhesis" of the motor, an engine that expands its
own movement, either by replenishing its energy or by
striving-towerd its most liminal paralogy (the surprise of a
new motion) (1975:72).
13~hershenevich observes that , " [ i ] n a long chain
of images, where one is linked to the other like clockwork
gears, there is only one criterion for success:
expressiveness, based on exceptional novelty" because, "[als
soon as an image gets old, trite, it [starts] slipping like
an old gear, irnpairing the work of the clockwork mechanism"
(151). When Marinetti daims that "every noun is a[ ...] belt
set in motion by the vert (1991:107), he implies that
writing coincides with a filmic device, whose program
exposes language for the artificial cognition that it is.
''~aulson observes that " [ t lhe parallel equations
of Boltzmann and Shannon" analyze such atomic states of
uncertainty in terms of negentropic probability (56).
Nomadic science reveals that a thermionic flow of heat and a
cybernetic flow of data can be explained by the same
formula. For Boltzmann: S = -k E pi log p i.
H = -k B pi logZ pi.
For the 'pataphysician, the parallelism
between these two equations might imply that the laws of the
physical-universe correlate the dissipativeness of a system
with the informativeness of a system.
157'inguely suggests that the operator of every
bachelor machine must ultimately corne to understand the
'pataphysics of such metamorphic machination, embracing the
rhesis of a nomad genre rather than the stasis of a royal
genre: "Conceptions are fixations. If we stand still, we
block our own path, and we are confronted with our own
controversies. Let us contradict ourselves because we
change. Let us be good and evil, true and false, beautiful
and loathesome. We are al1 of these anyway. Let us admit
it by accepting movement." (Hulten 67)
A 'Pataphssics of Mathetic Exception
"That which certain writers have introduced
with talent (even with genius) in their
(Oulipo) intends to do
systematically and scientifically, if need be
through recourse to machines that process
information." (Oulipo 1986:27)
"[Djays are spooky[ ...] now that my
dissertation is insane." (RACTER )
French Oulipians present the second case for the
surrationalism of the 'pataphysical, revising the structure
of exception in order to oppose the irrationalism of the
French Surrealists. Members of Oulipo (l'ouvroir de
littgrature potentielle) respond to the avant-garde pseudo-
science of Jarry by inflecting the mathetic intensities of
numerological forms, arguing that exception results from the
constraint of programs.
Like Futurism, Oulipo regards
literature as a cyborganic phenornenon that results f rom
deliberate collisions betneen tropaic devices:
paralogy of accidents.
For the Oulipisns, writing is
automatic, insofar as it results not from an aleatory
impulse ( as in Surrealism) , but from a mandatory purpose ( as
writing is itself a machine to be studied
methodically and guided systematically, as if by a science.
Inspired by Jarry, Oulipo has revised the structure of
exception by using a 'pataphysical epistemology to study the
s~z~nia between the anomalos of "constraint" and the
clinamen of "potential."
Working under the auspices of a
speculative institution (le collkae de 'pataphysique),
members of Oulipo (who include, among others, such literati
as Queneau, Lionnais, Calvino, and Perec) study three unique
species of exceptional eventuality:
the a~oria of order
emerging out of chaos, the chiasm existing between order and
chaos, and the swerve of chaos breaking away from order.
Such 'pataphysics attempts to reconcile the dichotomy that
metaphysics must establish between the mathema of a nomic,
predetermined law (the fata of the as is) and the poiesis of
a ludic, indeterminate art (the alea of the as if).
Oulipo resorts to 'pataphysics in order to suggest that
even a machinic calculus has the potential to generate the
novelty of anomaly.
Just as science might propose rigorous
systems for producing innovative knowledge, so also might
poetry propose rigorous systems for producing innovative
Like the Futurists, who explore the
molecularity of a machinic language, so also do the
Oulipians resort to a lingual atomism in order to imagine
their own anagrammatic radicalities.
Such an axiomatic
condition provides the basis for a 'pataphysical
mathematics, whose ludic rules oppose the royal science of
Such a nomad science suggests that
the mathesis of anagrams can subtend a cybernetic literature
of the future (the potential of which has already been
portended by such novelties as hypertexts and videogames).
Oulipo explores the epistemology of such potentialitv,
replacing the metaphysics of thetical cases with the
'pataphysics of hypothetical cases--the als ob, the "as if,"
of what might have been.
Like Futurism, Oulipo sees its
work in ternis of an, as yet, unrealized reality that exists
paradoxically before its time and ahead of its time, taking
place in the tense of the post modo.
Such an avant-garde
pseudo-science endesvours to create potential problems in
the present so that writers in the future might provide an
Such a discipline functions within a
ludic genre of speculative experiments:
"1s there any other
canonical way of viewing the future (whether one calls
oneself serious in the[. ..] ('Ipataphysical sense of the
word), than as a bouquet of Imaginary Solutions--that is, of
potentialities" (Oulipo 1986:50).
The Collene of 'Pataphvsics
Oulipo represents an auxiliary outgrowth of the College
of Vataphysics--an absurd school, founded in 1948 in order
to preserve the memory of Jarry by publishing Cahiers and
Dossiers about his avant-garde pseudo-science.
of the projectors from Lagsdo (as in the work of Swift) or
even the professors from Erewhon (as in the work of Butler),
members indulge in a cabalistic spectacle of academic
parodies, constructing a complicated, but meaningless,
bureaucracy of regents and satraps, who lampoon the
institutional arbitrariness of scholastic categories,
imitating what Swift calls the "universal artist," the kind
of person who might breed sheep without wool so as to
advance "speculative learning" (147). As Taylor remsrks:
"the College of 'Pataphysics promotes 'Pata~husics in this
world and in al1 others" (Taylor 151).
The College of 'Pataphysics strives to substantiate the
imaginary philosophy that Butler in turn only hypothesizes
for his own College of Unreason-a
philosophy that he calls
hs~othetics (the nowhere science of Erewhon).
Philoso~hie des Als Ob imagines a set of impossible
exigencies, each of which requires the sophistry of s
"[to] require the youths to give
intelligent answers to the questions that arise therefrom,
is reckoned the fittest conceivable way of preparing them
for the actual conduct of their affairs" (185-186). To
teach only the reality of the as is without thougbt for the
as if is to invite the myopia of a fixed logic:
an extreme science always risks the peril of its own folly.
No errors are so egregious that reason cannot find a wiley
means to defend, at al1 cost, their impugned prestige,
The College of 'Pataphysics subscribes implicitly to
such an Erewhonian hypothesis:
the idea that, if unreason
cannot exist without its opposite, then surely an increase
in the former must result in an increase in the latter
(hence, the need to advocate what is specious in order to
expedite what is rational) (187). The "double currency" of
such a surrational perspective sustains a deconstructive
undecidability between syllogisrn and sophistry (insofar as
logic is- used to prove that logic itself cannot be used to
prove): "[tlhe Professors of Unreason deny that they
none can be more convinced than they
are, that if the double currency cannot be rigorously
deduced[ ...], the double currency [must) cease forthwith"
(108).' The meta of physics must be invalid if it cannot
eveal to itself the pata of its own madness.
The College of 'Pataphysics offers no degree for such a
lesson, but simply grants pupils the permission to indulge
in the kind of epistemological experimentation seen, for
example, in the abstract workshop of Oulipo (where sober
whimsy reconciles work and play in order to reassert the
rigorous pleasure of cerebral exercise).
For Queneau, such
disciplined daydreaming requires a radical SC ience of
"Cw3e forge ahead without undue
refinement" since "[wle try to prove motion by walking"
(1986a:51). Such a nomadic science privileges the
amateurism of tinkering engineers, who proceed by trial and
error, case by case, following a course of action rather
than directing a course of action:
not refinement, but
Such rigorous activity is simpl y a diversion
that follows a clinamen in the traject of thought.
The Bureau of Surrealism
The College of Pataphysics has in turn inspired a
conceptual laboratory that does not simply repeat the
ironies of either Lagsdo or Erewhon; instead, the
surrationalism of l'ouvroir de littkrature ~otentielle
serves to oppose the irrationalism of Je bureau de
While Artaud might argue that such
a Bureau must reinterpret inspiration, according to "an
order that is impossible to elucidate by the methods of
ordinary reason" (1976:105), the project of such a Bureau
does, nevertheless, differ from the project of Oulipo.
While Artaud insists that Surrealism must follow no formula
(106), Lionnais insists that Oulipianism must sample every
"the goal of ~otential literature is to furnish
future writers with new techniques which can dismiss
inspiration from their affectivits" (Lescure 1986:38).
While the Bureau provides a facility where the public
might record its dreams (for the sake of a future study),
Oulipo provides a workshop where a quorum might invent new
charts (for the sake of a future dream).
Just as Futurism
swerves away from the influence of Symbolism, so also does
Oulipianism swerve away from the influence of Surrealiçm-
even though al1 four aesthetics oppose the metaphysics of
Both t he Surrealists and the Oulipianists
may subscribe to a belief in the automatism of writing;
however, the Oulipianists reject the belief that freedom is
born from the haphazard rejection of a structured
constraint, arguing that the surreal concept of blind chance
mistakenly buttresses the idea that radical thought can be
based upon systernatic ignorance.
For Oulipo, no rule can be
undermined by pretending that the rule does not exist.
Oulipo agrees with the surreal premise thst concepts of
the true can no longer provide a standard for the paradigm
of the real; however, Oulipo argues that to prove this point
by completely abandoning a rational axiology is to commit a
Roubaud suggests that, to avoid this
error, Oulipo proposes to envision a kind of "mathematical
surrealism" ( 80), in which mathema coincides perfectly with
poiesis (insofar as both domains refer to the surrealist
virtuality of an as if--the Traumwelt of our own suspended
Even a calculus textbook can speculate about a
set of alternate realities, each with its own rational
modality (be it a hyperbolic space or a transfinite curve).
For Oulipo, the speculative recreations of such mathematics
are no less surreal than the radical poetics of a
Oulipo interprets such revisions of exception as a form
of paradoxical temporality that, like Futurism, reverses
causality through a simulacral precession,
becomes an act of "plagiarism by anticipation" (1986:31), in
which, by some swerve, a past style merely replicates what a
future style has already originated. What Lionnais calls
anoulipism (the analysis of a past constraint) may inspire
what Lionnais calls synthouli~ism (the synthesis of a future
potentia1)--but this subsequent potential in turn revises
its precedent constraint through a kind of 'pataphysical
Such s reversa1 is not surreal in its
nostalgia so much as oneiric in its prognosis.
suggests, " [ilt is possible to compose texts that
have[. ..]surrealist[... Jqualities without having qualities
of potential" (Lescure 1986 : 38 ) .
Mathematics and 'Patsphysics
Inspired by the College of 'Pataphysics, Oulipo
attempts to propose a 'pataphysical counterpoint to the
rational axiology of mathematics.
Some members of the
College, such as Queneau and Arnaud (who are also members of
Oulipo) have traced the spirals of their own cognitive
gidouille, deriving the reductio ad absurdum of an
just as Queneau studies the
aerodynamics of equations (1952b:21), so also does Arnaud
explain the mathematics of umbrellas (1955:48).
College has studied on behalf of the clinamen has in turn
influenced the studies of Oulipo itself (psrticularly the
literary research of its mathematical professionals:
Lionnais, Roubaud, Braffort, et al.--al1 of whom pursue
research inspired less by the rectilinear Cornpars of Euclid
and more by the curvilinear Dispars of Riemann).
Oulipo merely follows, then extends, the clinamen,
already present in the numerical sophistry of Jarry, who
attributes the origin of science to an ancient geometry, the
"['IPataphysics of Sophrotatos" (1965:251), from which a
Pythagorean philosopher might derive the formula for the
ssz~gia: ( . When Faustroll uses such a formula in
order to calculate that God is equal to the tangent between
nihility and infinity (1965:256), Jarry parodies the
metaphysical scholasticism of Pascal by suggesting that
belief in the coherence of such logic is no less absurd than
belief in the existence of a deity.
Such a weird proof only
provides an allegory for the argument that, when deified,
science itself coincides with such a chiasm between nihility
and infinity: ie.
the limit of error in science--its
measurement of uncertainty ( + 1--remains incalculable.
Oulipo also follows, then extends, the clinamen,
already present in the numerical sophistry of Marinetti, who
attributes the future of science to an updated calculus, in
which "1 t Jhe mathematical signs + - x serve to achieve
marvelous syntheses" ( 9 9 : l l .
When Marinetti imagines a
poetry of lyrical numbers, he argues that, "[w] ith the
mathematical -, the doubting suspension suddenly spreads
itself over the entirc agglomeration of words-in-freedom,"
thereby eliminating any question which localizes its doubt
upon only one point of awareness (110); instead, every
potentiality is considered in its simultaneity, be it plus
or minus ( 2 ).'
Such equations suggest that, "by
(addressing themselves phonically and optically to the
numerical sensibility)" (110), 'pataphysicians might reveal
the potential for a chiasm between mathema and poiesis.
Roubaud argues that, for Oulipo, to compose poetry is
to undertake a mathetic analysis of language itself (both
algebraically and topologically ) : " [w] riting
under[. ..]constraint is[ ...] equivalent [to] the drafting of
a mathematical text, which may be formalized according to
the axiomatic method" (89). Like Buchanan, who proposes
treating metaphor mathematically end mathesis metaphorically
(13) in order to explore their reciprocal influences,
Oulipo endeavours to demonstrate that, only through the
hybridity of such ' pataphysical dilettantism,' can science
ever hope to produce the novelty of anomaly.
advances in the nomic tradition of mathema depend upon a
ludic sedition against the numerary, so also do advances in
the nomic tradition of poiesis depend upon a ludic sedition
against the literary. 5
Queneau, for example, wilfully misreads the Euclidean
exercises of Hilbert (who speculates that geometric terms
may be nothing more than cognates for grammatic terms:
every atomic point is a morpheme; every linear curve is a
phraseme; and every planar field is an ideomeme) (1995:4).
Queneau substitutes these speculative, grammatic terms for
their respective, geometric terms so that the standardized
definition of a line (as an infinite sequence of points)
becomes a bastardized definition of a sentence:
sentence contains an infinity of wordst1--only some are
perceived; the rest are imaginary (13). Such an
intertextual substitution of poiesis for mathema in effect
produces an aphorism about the potentialities of
intertextuality itself--the ides that "CbJetween two words
of a sentence there exists an infinity of other words" (13).
Queneau dramatizes such 'pataphysical potentiality by
demonstrating his own "parallel postulate," in which the
poiesis of any genre might be transposed into the mathema of
Every conic curve provides a metaphor for the
clinamen of a given trope:
the elliptical function of
abbreviation, the paraboloid function of disquisition, and
the hvperbolic function of exaggeration (15).
equation, each of the axiomatic sentences is itself a
constraint for a set of variables (be they geometric or
grammatic). The permuting of these variables generates a
formulation, whose Gbdelian reasoning imposes a constraint
upon the potentials of constraint itself: ie. "Jalxiorns are
not governed by axiomsl' (7). The rule 1s that, for every
rule whose structure is reflexive (including this rule), the
swerve of an exception must intervene.
The Exception of Constraint
Oulipo derives its own exceptional formalities f rom the
mathema of "combinatorics"--a discipline that studies what
Berge calls configurations: "[a] configuration arises every
time objects are distributed according to[ ...] constraints"
(1 ). Such a science pertains to the optimization of
arrangements within determined parameters. What applies,
for example, to the nomic study of numerals in matrices also
applies to the ludic study of acrostics and rnagic-squares,
crosswordç and j igsaw-puzzles . 7
The f ixed canon of literary
research has often ignored the nomadic anomaly of such
combinatorics on the assumption that to subscribe to
constraint is to indulge in a frivolous aesthetic even
though the formality of such constraint (as seen, for
example, in the lipogram, the rhopalic, etc.) can afford the
study of poetics with the rigor of a science.
Perec cornplains that "formal mannerismd ...] are
relegated to the registers of asylums" wherein
" [c]onstraints are treated[ . . . ]as aberrations" ( 1986: 981,
even though the values of such a radical poetics depend not
upon the significance of its themes, but upon the
extravagance of its schema.
Like Futurism, which re jects
passgism, Oulipo argues that a poetry of the future must
absorb, not avoid, what is paradoxical and paralogical in
the science of the present, since to reject the sedition of
the new is simply to adopt the tradition of the old,
maintaining unconscious constraints without an appraisal of
The distinction between poiesis and
mathema is a constraint that has outlived its potential, and
thus the 'pataphysician must disrupt this constraint by
adopting, as a new constraint, mathema itself. 8
~énabou suggests that to appeal to an aesthetics of
constraint is to reveal the hidden agenda, the secret power,
in the pragmatics cf al1 constraint:
"to the extent that
constraint goes beyond rules which seem natural only to
those people who have barely questioned language, it forces
the system out of its routine functioning, thereby
compelling it to reveal its hidden resources" (41). As
"inspiration which consists in blind
obedience to every impulse is in reality a sort of slavery"
ecause "the pet who writes that which cornes into his
head[. ..lis the slave of otber rules of which he is
ignorant" (~dnabou 1986:41). To explore the rule is to be
emancipated from it by becoming the master of its ~otential
for surprise, whereas to ignore the rule is to be imprisoned
in it by becoming the slave to the reprise of its intention.
Roubaud argues that, to realize the potentiality of
such a radical poetics, "a constraint [is] envisaged only on
the condition that this text contain al1 the possibilities
of the constraint" (95)--which is to say that the constraint
must evoke the entire domain of its own as if:
exemplary sin~ularitv to be repeated, but an imaginary
multiparity to be explored.
Such a literary manifold does
not produce a variation upon its own significant themes so
much as produce an extravagant scheme of variation. What is
potential generates a new process rather than an old
The exception to a rule implies, not a freedom
from, but the outcome of, such a constraint.
explicates the rule, testing its limits, defying its fields,
forsaking the nomic work of one paradigm for the ludic risk
of another paralogy.
Roubaud argues that the potential of such a constraint
can avoid the imperialism of its own repetition if the
constraint is proposed, but produces only one textual
"there even exists a tendency, which might be
qualifieci as ultra, for which evers text deduced from a
constraint must be classed in the 'applied' domain, the only
admissible text, for the Oulipiani ...] being the text that
formulates the constraint and, in sa doing, exhausts it"
(91). While the constraints of Oulipo can tend toward
multiple examples only by ceasing to perform the intentions
of Oulipo, such a constraint upon constraint omits the
necessity for deduction in the method itself.
Even though a
constraint must provide only a virtual theorem about a
hypothetic textuality, such a theorem must "prove" itself
through at least one imagined solution.
Roubaud argues that, in effect, "a text written
according to a constraint must speak of this constraint"
(Oulipo 1986:12), if only because this constraint upon
constraint dramatizes the reflexive tautology of mathema
itself (hence, a writer like Perec might compose a lipogram
that refers to itself as a lipoaram, repressing the letter E
while mentioning the absent E: "1 [would] start giving my
plotting a symbolic turn, so that[ . . . ] it would point up,
without blatantly divulging, that Law that was its
inspiration, that Law from which it would draw[ ...] a rich,
fruitful narration") (1994:282).
Such a strict, but absurd,
law about law nevetheless dramatizes a perverse allegory
about 'pataphysics itself (as if to suggest that reality is
merely a system of arbitrsry constrsint, whose rules have
created a science that can in turn discuss such rules).
Constraint provides an allegory for the phenomenal
recurrence of a numerical structure so that, like Fibonacci
sequences (which subtend the naturd anatomy of nautili and
flowers), such acts of poietic mathema evoke 'pataphysical
speculations about the ludic basis of reality itself
(implying that physics is merely the poetic effect of a vast
game that reality must play--a game in which the rules
themselves are at stake). As Roubaud argues, "something
'additional to' their production intervenes, different from
the secrets of their enumeration:
the search for a new
multiplicity of limits (or of non-limits[ ...]), each the
founder of a remarkabler. ..]proposition, a number no longer
golden, but made of some other precious element, [the] 'rare
earth' of esthetics" (96)--the ironic verity of beauty.
The Exce~tion of Potential
Greimas quotes de Tracy in order to argue that no
narrative game lacks imperative rules : "JO lne should beware
of believinn lthatl the inventive mind operates accordina to
chance" (48). Oulipo agrees with Greimas, insofar as it
refuses to equate chance with a freedom from some dictum.
Bens, however, wonders in what way "one [can] reconcile such
rigor with the[. ..lthe incertitude[ ...] that [must]
necessarily accompany potentiality" (70), and he suggests
that Oulipo does so by evoking the sszyaia as a trope for
the ambivalent relativity between the alea and the fata.
Oulipo explores the poetic impact of any aleatoric form that
arises from an axiomatic rule (for example, the random
series of digits in the number n or the random series of
primes in the set 1--arbitrary sequences that reveal a
cornplicity between complexity and simplicity).
Queneau cites such mathetic examples of chance in order
to swerve away from his Surrealist compatriots (who reject
him for his belief that chance does not necessarily
synchronize with extreme freedom); instead, chance arises,
not from the absence of a conscious rule, but from the
presence of an ineffable rule (Bénabou 1986:41). While the
Surrealists must insist that the anagrammatic coincidences
of automatic scription do exemplify the random excess of
irrational liberation, Baudrillard has gone so far as to
aver that this kind of excess is not so arbitrary as it is
mandatory: it is a necessity exceeding the rule which joins
the signifier and the signified (a rule which is
itself supremely arbitrary) (1990:151). What is surreal
about a rule is not its disappearance, but its reflex-
iveness: its ability to recognize itself as an exception.
Baudrillard suggests that, for science, there exist two
hypotheses about chance itself: the first, metaphysical
(suggesting that al1 things are disconnected and divergent,
and only by chance do they meet each other); the second,
'pataphysical (suggesting that al1 things are connected and
convergent, and only by chance do they miss each other)
( 199Oa: 145 ) . While quantum physics has qualif ied the
implicit error within deterministic causality, substituting
alea for fata, such a science has nevertheless disclosed an
even more implicit order behind indeterminate causality--a
synchronistic order that is coincidental and conspiratory:
"[clhance[ ...] correspond[s] not to a temporary incapacity of
science to explain everything[ ...] but to the passing from a
state of causal determination to another order, radically
different, also of non-chance" ( 145). 9
Baudrillard suggests that, for science, "[clhance
itself is a special effect; it assumes in imagination the
perfection of the accident" (1990a:149)--the kind of
accident that characterizes the fatal order of al1 poiesiç
(particulary in the case of Oulipo): "[w]riting[...,]
[wlhether poetry or theory, [is] nothing but the projection
of an arbitrary code[...](an
invention of the rules of a
game) where things corne to be taken in their fatal
development" (154). The game presents an arbitrary ensemble
of constraints, of necessities, whose outcome remains
The science of ' pataphysics suggests that the
real is a ludic event, whose mandatory fate results from an
aleatoric rule that produces, not a reprise of its code so
much as a surprise from its code. The alea is the a~oria of
the fats, revealing the paradox of a so-called random order.
Oulipo suggests that the potentials of constraint
coincide with the poiesis of a ludic state, whose mathema
constitutes a playful way to study al1 that is playful
(doing so in a manner different from the kind of statistical
rationalisrn, which codifies play according to a forma1
matrix of minimax options and zerosum tactics).
observes that, although whst is ludic does not regard the
rule of its contraints as a mandatory universal, what is
ludic does nevertheless assume that the as if of such
constraints can free us from the necessities of the as is:
"by choosin~ the rule one is delivered from the lawu--from
its metaphysical prerequisite:
ie, belief in the verity of
its spstem (1990b:133) .'O
The truth of the iudic abides by
no belief; instead, such truth is entertained as one of many
it is merely a "p~tentiality.'~
Oulipo proposes the as if of such a constraint in order
to swerve away from it through the potential of a mandatory
Perec explains that, "when a system of
constraints is established, there must also be anticonstraint
within it" (Hotte 1986276). Life itself must
include cases of "falsity" and "absence" in the structure of
its mode d'emploi, either altering or deleting an event so
that there rernains at least one anomalous component to the
For Perec, a constraint must
systematically evoke its own disintegration in a manner that
calls to mind the paradox of the Persian flaw (insofar as it
perfects what it disrupts): "[tlhe system of constraints
[...]must not be rigid, there must be some play in it, it
must, as they Say, 'creak' a bit; it must not be completely
coherent; there must be a clinamen" (Motte 1986: 276). 11
Oulipo suggests that the potential of such a clinamen
evokes a- 'pataphysical multiplicity.
Bens, for exemple,
observes that, " [s] ince reality never reveals more than a
part of its totality, it thereby justifies a thousand
al1 equally probable"
(72). Just as Bens rnight argue that "potentialitv, more
than a technique of composition, is a certain way of
conceiving the literary" (72), so also does Lescure argue
that "every literary text is literary because of an
indefinite quantity of potential meanings" (37). What is
potentialits for the French Oulipians is thus tantamount to
literariness for the Russian Formalists, insofar as both
concepts theorize the poiesis of novelty in terms of an
if, in which to be literary is to pose imaginary solutions
to problematic formalities.
The Anagram of 'Pataphvsics
Oulipo regards poeisis as a form of ars combinatoria,
in which the alphabet provides a fixed array of Lucretian
particles in a state of disciplined permutation.
remarks that, since al1 the different modes of mathema
(addition, division, etc.) can be applied to al1 the
different strata of poiesis (morpheme, phraseme, etc.), a
text is just a set of atomistic variables that evolve within
a set of axiomatic constants (44-45).
~gnabou repeats the
premise of Hjelmslev, who argues that, if language is merely
a forrnulaic way of selecting terms and arranging them in a
forrnulaic wsy, then "an exhaustive calculus of the possible
combinations" can be "described by means of a limited number
of premisses" (9). This mathetic analysis of language
presumes that language has a machinic function:
that it is
one of many cellular automata.
Greimas, moreover, goes further thsn anyone in
describing such a poietic mathema since his own genre of
Structuralism invokes the abstract mode1 of symbolic logic
in order to derive the formula for literature itself.
Narrative structure can be reduced to an imperial calculus,
in which the given units are arranged within magical
squares, according to a forma1 ensemble of boolean axioms:
conjunction, disjunction, non-conjunction, non-disjunction.
Meaning arises from "the interaction of semiotic
constraints" (48) within a grammar of reciprocal relativity.
Poetic genres simply diagram the transition of "actants"
from position to position in this set of quadratic
relations. Like the Oulipianists, the Structuralists argue
that poetic genius can be explained according to a rule.
Mathews hss even written texts by multiplying two
matrices of lexical elements in order to produce
algebraically a third rnatrix of phrasa1 elements (126).
Such a mathetic analysis of grammar suggests that even
aesthetic constraints might themselves be arkanged within a
matrix of genres so that just as Mendelejeff can propose a
periodic table of chernical elements, so also can Queneau
propose a periodic table of poetical elements, both indices
acting as atomic diagrams by which to classify the results
of poetic prograns (~énabou 1986 : 46 ) . Just as Hendele jef f
reveals the relative positions for possible elements (as yet
unfound), so also does Queneau reveal the relative positions
for potential poetries (as yet untried).
offers a topography of virtuality, revealing domains of
anomely for futuristic innovation.
Oulipo may appear to repeat the kind of theories that
typify Structuralism, but (as Roubaud observes),
"[s]tructure, in its[ ...] Oulipian sense, has only a minimal
relation to 'Structuralism"'
(93). Oulipo in fact draws a
subtle, but urgent, distinction between the Structura of
Greimas and the Structure of Queneau: the former
iescribing a static diagram for the general case of a text;
the latter inscribing a rhetic program for the special case
of a text.
Structura corresponds to the predictable reprise
of the Compars, providing an hermeneutic formula for
extracting constants from variables:
it is a mode1 product
to be emulated--whereas Structure corresponds to the
unpredictable surprise of the Dispars, providing an
heuristic formula for injecting variants into variables:
it is a modal Process to be explored. 12
Baudrillard observes that, in the case of Structura,
"[tlhis is what linguistics does:
it forces language into
an autonomous sphere in its own image, and Eeigns to have
found it there 'objectively,' when from start to finish, it
[has] inventedt ...] it" (1993a:203)--mistaking accidents for
destinies when given an event of anagrammatic significance.
Baudrillard sees that, for the Structura of Saussure, the
poiesis of the anagram threatens to undermine the very
mathema of the science that must use language itself to
study such language (hence, Saussure resists the radical
outcome that his own studies of the anagram nevertheless
enforce) (1993a:SlZ). Whereas the metaphysical atomism of
Structura reduces words to absolute units that SUPPO~~
signification, the 'pataphysical atomism of Structure
reduces words to dissolute units that subvert signification.
Baudrillard writes that "[al11 these formulas converge
on the idea of a 'Brownian' stage of language, an emulsional
stage of the signifier, homologous to the molecular stage of
physical- matter, that liberates 'harmonies' of meaning just
as fission or fusion liberates new molecular affinities"
(1993a:218). When Perec, for exemple, writes a heterogram,
in which each line of grid contains a different sequence of
the ten most common letters (AEILNORSTU) plus one other, he
does not simply encipher messages within a tabula that makes
sense when read left to right, line by line; instead, he
explores the combinatorics of an unanticipated configuration
(1985:). Just as the as if of a mathematic concept often
coincides uncannily with the as is of its phenomenal
reality, so also does the anagram contrive a possible
(rather than encipher a previous) meaning.
Perec can thus transform a sequence such as ACEILNORSTU
into a "factory of exchange" (l'usine d troc) which turns
howls (us& cri tonal) into tools (outils B soc), according
to a closed system--a container of undecennary orderliness:
"you have the casket:
here, nude, art dares it" (tu as
l'&crin: ci, nu, art l'ose) (1985:). Rather than
encode a cryptic keyword (whose repeated presence rnight
dramatize the "ulcerations" of such a formidable
constraint), these anagrams disperse the atomistic particles
of such a keyword through a kind of literal seepage (the
"ulcerations" evoking a rule for the sake of erasing its
pain). The anagram does not recycle so much as atomize its
meaning,. dissecting it, dispersing it, until the keyword
vanishes (just as every meaningful phenornenon vanishes
through the permuted excesses of its own atomic events).
The Proaram of 'Pataphvsics
Oulipo derives its inspiration for this kind of
anagrammatic 'pataphysics from the work of Swift, who
conceives "a project for improving speculative knowledge
by[ ...) mechanical operations" (148). What Swift describes
with humour in a spirit of moral seriousness, Oulipo
practices with humour in a spirit of sober whimsy.
Swift satirizes, Oulipo plagiarizes.
Like the projectors at
the Grand Academy of Lagado, the professors at l'ouvroir de
littgrature potentielle recombine the disiecta eembra of a
textual history in order to invent an absurd device that can
eliminate the necessitg for inspiration:
"[elvery one knows
how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and
sciences; whereas by[ ...] contrivance the most ignorant
person[ ...] may write books[...jwithout the least assistance
from genius or study" (148).
Swift imagines a screen across which the spectacle of
the alea-and the fata can appear and disappear through the
automation of an ars combinatoria.
The Grand Academg of
Lagado creates a framework of wood cubes, that suive1 on
wire axles, their numerous facets covered by square pieces
of paper with al1 the words of the language engraven upon
them in al1 their moods and cases, but without any order, so
that anyone turning the handles on the edge of the frame
might alter the old sequence of recorded thinking and thus
evoke a new sentence ." What Swift berates metaphysically
as a reckless device, Oulipo equates 'pataphysically with a
bachelor engine: the as if of a literary computer. Like
the Futurists, the Oulipians, equate poiesis itself with a
machinic paralogy (whose potential involves an intended
the swerve of anagrammatic coincidences).
Oulipo imagines that such a computer can express the
potential of a constraint too laborious to be otherwise
fulfilled (since machines can easily perform the exhaustive
task of both selecting words and combining them--in a way
that has since corne to define the mesostics of Cage or the
aleatories of Mac Low); however, such acts of prosthetic
automation do not simply assist in the process of writing so
much as replace the concept of writing itself. Thomas
observes that the Prefaces to poerns by Oulipo do not serve
as authorial statements about semantic intention; instead,
they comprise a mode d'emploi, not unlike a READMLDOC that
precedes a computer program (18). A text is no longer
simply a message produced by, and for, a person, so much as
it is a proaram produced by, and for, a device--an algorithm
designed to make its reader become a writer.
Oulipo imagines that such a cybernetic literature of
anagrammatic permutations might realize the dresm of Borges
and create a garden of forking paths-an
experience of rhizomatic potentials, in whicb the machine
expects the reader to behsve like a writer who must deflect
the course of the narrative through an ensemble of crucial
options: the as if of multiple if thens.
calls a "tree literature" (1986b:156) and what Fournel calls
a "theater tree" (1986:159) have corne to represent some of
the first texts to discuss the potential for interactive
innovations (particularly hypertexts and videogames). Such
cases of cybernetic literature begin to dramatize a
philosophy of 'pataphysical perspectivism, insofar as they
attempt to imagine a multitude of divergent realities
created simultaneously from the same text.
Queneau in Cent Mille Milliards de poèmes perhaps
offers the first such case-study in his attempt to produce a
book that is not so much a volume for storing poetry as a
machine for creating poetry:
ten sonnets are written on ten
pages with cut lines so that a line from any sonnet can be
supplanted by its cognate from any of the other sonnets
(while still preserving all their rules of rhythm and
syntax). Since the Cartesian product of ten sonnets with
fourteen lines (10'" permit trillions of different cases, a
single reader, reading one a second, must survive for more
than a thousand millenia in order to read every poem.
a book remains inscrutable, not because of its illegibility,
but because of its potentiality.
Such a book is
'pataphysical, insofar as it deals with the as if of what is
possible in virtuality, but impossible in actuality.
Oulipo suggests, moreover, that even though such poetry
reveals interpretation to be inexhaustible, 'pataphysics
does not believe in the motto, ars lon~a vita brevis;
instead, 'pataphysics implies that "[alrt is not long enough
even in the shortest of livestf (Oulipo 1986:48).
forever to do in actuality takes no time at al1 to do in
"The Cent Mille Milliards de pokmes [has]
rendered this clear to ['Jpataphysicians" (48).
onerous, if not sublime, burden of al1 the unexplored
potentials must always outweigh the durability of any one
text since no poem can endure long enough to resist al1 of
the new poems that it in turn evokes. It too is merely an
intimation of a future text that is likewise unreadable in
its absolute entirets because it too is no more than a
virtual machine for creating the possible.
Oulipo regards such a poem as a kind of literary
cornputer, whose power resides in its ability ta graph a "map
of[ ...] virtualities" (1986:50)--a map that alludes to the
increasing role of industrial machines in al1 aspects of
poiesis: "[tlhis exploration[ ...) only begins to suggest the
vastness[. .. Jexplorable when[ ...] thsnks to cornputers we can
finally[ ...] begin to reveal the constants of a writer in al1
sorts of areas" (49-50).
Such a poem produces an
of mystification" (501, defamiliarizing the
romantic mystique of irrationalism by providing a
parenthetical example in the present for a hypothetical
machine of the future--a machine able to peruse the poetry
of humans even as it writes poetry of its own:
Swift, skeptical prophets, we entertain these prospects
[ ' ]pataphysicallytt ( 50 ) .
Calvino argues that "the aid of a computer, far from
replacin~ the creative act of the artist, permits the latter
rather to liberate himself from the slavery of s combinatory
search, allowing him also the best chance of concentrating
on this 'clinamen' which, alone, can make of the text a true
work of art" (1986a:152).
Computerized experiments with
poetry so far resemble Surrealism because they mimic
aleatory impulses (chance forais, random styles, broken
logic); however, the creativity of machinery might be better
served by the mannerism of its forma1 rigour:
literature machine Lis] one that itself feels the need to
produce disorder, as a resction against its preceding
production of order:
a machine that [can] produce avant-
garde work to free its circuits when they are choked by too
long a production of classicism" (13).
Calvino suggests in effect that, because cybernetics
has begun to develop machines capable of autodidactics and
autopoietics, "nothing prevents us from f oreseeing a
literature machine that at a certain point feels unsatisfied
with its own traditionalism and starts to propose new ways
of writing, turning its own codes completely upside down"
Such a machine might analyze the material
relations between poetics and history by correlating its own
stylistic variation to the stock index:
"[tjhat indeed will
be the literature that corresponds perfectly to a
it will, at last, be the
literature" (13).14 While the Surrealists argue that,
because -inspiration is instinctive, it is inexplicable, the
Oulipianists argue that what is most automatistic in the
instinct of writing must also be most pronrammable.
Oulipo suggests that "[tlhe Word is[...]
ontogenetically [']pataphysicalU (1986:48), insofar as
language does not depict the world of the as is so much as
create the world of the as if: "[tlhe time of created
creationsl . . . ] should cede to the era of creating crestions"
(48)--not artifacts, but catalysts: not objets d'art, but
Poetry is no longer the effect of
inspiration so much as it is the cause for inspiration:
"[tlhe whole world of literature ought to become the object
of numerousl . . . ] prostheses" ( 31 )--be they linguistic or
For Oulipo, inspiration is ultimately not
irrational so much as it is surrational.
results from the fata of a simple law that applies itself to
itself in order to form the alea of a complex art.
swerve of a clinamen arises from the rigor of its influence.
Oulipo implies that each text ought to become no more
than a tool to be deployed upon itself by yet another text
in order to produce "a Topology of Commonplaces, in which
one[ ...]succeed[s] in abstracting cornmonplaces from the
structures of commonplaces--and then a 'squared' topology of
these places, and so forth until one attains, in a rigorous
analysis of this regressus itself, the absolute" (Oulipo
1986:50). Oulipo, however, introduces a clinarnen into this
metaphysics of such an absolute. The repetition of a past
constraint (the re~ressus) swerves into the intimation of a
future potential (the digressus). The machinic accident of
such a swerve threatens the existential originality of
creat ivity by reminding the poet about the potential
iterability of creativity itself--which is to Say that even
'pataphysics must evoke its own 'pataphysical retroversion.
Notes to Cha~ter 4
'Oulipo privileges ouvroir over oeuvre.
than refer to itself as une sgm'minaire de littgrature
expbrimentale, Oulipo refers to itself as a un ouvroir de
littgrature potentielle, doing so for two reasons:
the word séminaire connotes the individual experience of
masculized eugenics, whereas the word ouvroir connotes the
collective experience of a femininized industry; second, the
word expkrimentale suggests the outcome of a practice in the
present, whereas the word potentielle emphasizes the promise
of an outcome for the future.
2~utler vrites thst Ünreason[ ...] is the
complement of reason, without whose existence reason itself
were non-existent," and for such an Erewhonian 'pataphysics,
irrationalism is the hyperbolic, not the antonymic, extreme
of rationalism itself:
"[e]xtremes are alone logical, but
they are always absurd" (187). Reason is an extreme species
of reciprocal opposition, whose logic is potentially more
threatening than the average s~z~nia and its conflation of
"the mean is illogical, but an illogical mean
is better than the sheer absurdity of an extreme" (187).
'~arinetti writes: "[m]y love of precision[ . . . ]
has naturally given me a taste for numbers, which live and
breathe on the paper like living beings in our new numerical
Algebra provides a mode1 for
grammatical innovations--for example, "it would have needed
at least an entire page of description to render this vast
and complex battle horizon had 1 not found this[ ...] lyric
'horizon = sharp bore of the sun +5 triangular
shadows (1 kilometer wide) +3 lozenges of rosy light +5
fragments of hills +30 columns of smoke +23 flames'" (110).
'~athemat icians have f requently recognized that
wherever mathema must explicate its own axiomatic paradoxes,
it must abandon itself 'pataphysically to the imaginary
solutions of its own antonym--poiesis:
example, the paradoxes of Aristotle (as seen in the stories
by Carroll about Wonderland), the paradoxes of Lobachevsky
(as seen in the stories by Abbott about Flatland) , the
paradoxes of G6del (as seen in the stories by Hofstadter
about Escherland), and the paradoxes of Mandelbrot (as seen
in the stories by Pickover about Lat&&carfia).
'~heories about numbers have often sprung from
mathetic recreations, particularly the stochastics of dicegambling
(as is the case for Pascal1 just as theories about
letters have of ten sprung f rom poietic recreations,
particularly the linguistics of word-jumbling (as is the
case for Saussure 1.
Not only do both types of royal science
resort to the ars ludens of a nomad science in order to
innovate their paradigms; both types of science resort to
the abductive reasoning of statistics in order to esplain
the atomistic quali ties that def ine their object of study.
'combinatorics can be used to perforrn algebraic
operations upon two or more matrices, mapping concrete
elements from one set ont0 the abstract structure of another
set, manipulating their elements in order to produce one of
three kinds of Cartesian product:
surjective (at least one
element for each position); in.iective (at most one element
for each position); or bijective (only two elements for each
Both linguistics and cybernetics deploy this
science in order to calculate combinatory statist ics for
phonernic frequencies or even entropic redundancies.
kuler, for example, proposes a feious problen of
given two sets, each with ten different
elements, distribute al1 of them into a 10 x 10 grid such
thet each ce11 contains only two elements, one from each
set, while no rank or file contains more than one element
from either set. Perec uses this configuration for the
structure of his mode d'emploi, in which ten characters and
ten scenarios are permuted throughout a 10 x 10 grid for a
a knight's grandtour around the story's
chessboard determines the sequence of narration (1987:501).
'~athema and poiesis intersect in the domain of
metaphor, the figure of a figure, be it a number or a
letter, both of which can render an account.
this relation more explicit than in the structure of the
analogy, an economy between two metaphors, the relation of
Both mathema and poiesis involve the use
of a ratio, a method of reason (so to speak), that measures
the relation between two measures (in this case the
metaphorical relationship between mathema and poiesis
ie. the svzvgia between opposite paradigms).
'~audrillard suggests that the dif ference between
the alea and the fata is subject to the reversion of the
s~zvgia. For Baudrillard, science always expects order to
arise out of chaos in order to resist chaos in what amounts
to a desperate battle, a sisyphean effort, waged against an
"Chance tires God" ( 1990: 147 . The
science of 'pataphysics, however, implies that, because
chance is what makes tolerable the brutality of fatality,
chance is tiresorne not because God must always prevent it,
but because God must always produce it.
ldOulipo suggests that mathesis is as ludic as
poiesis, insofar as such a system of constraint can create a
virtual reality of arbitrated rules to relativize the actual
reality of motivated rules. Constraint relies upon the
rhetorical strategies of metalepsis, exchanging signs about
the exchanging of signs, in order to state reflexively that
'this is play. ' Such play coincides with the as if of
ie, the perspectivism of the
'pataphysician, who no longer distinguishes between the
unreality of the semic and the actuality of the ontic.
%lotte argues that, when applied to the anagran,
the potentials of such a clinamen reify the very constraint
that they evade:
"one can trace the path of the clinamen
through the text, line by line, and its consequences are
the language of the new f orm, when compared
to the old, describes a radical swerve toward the normative"
The dysfunction of the system is itself
systematized as a function of the system so that that what
is paralogical in one science becomes paradigrnatic in
such is the clinamen of the clinamen.
12Within mathematics, we might contrast the royal
Structura of Hilbert with the nomad Structure of Mandelbrot:
the former, seeking to portray quanta1 dimensions as the
predicate norm for plane geometry; the latter, seeking to
portray fractal dimensions as an alternate case to plane
We might also contrast the royal Structura of
Russell with the nomad Structure of G8del:
seeking t o portray categorical paradox as aberrant to set
theory; the latter, seeking to elaborate categorical paradox
as inherent to set theory.
%ift writes: "The professor then desired me to
observe, for he was going to set his engine at work.
pupils at his command took each of them hold of an iron
handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of
the frame, and giving them a sudden turn, the whole
disposition of the words was entirely changed, He then
comrnanded[...]the lads to read the several lines softly as
they appeared upon the frame; and where they found three or
four words together that might make part of a sentence, they
dictated to the[ ...] scribes[....]" (148-150).
140ulipo imagines a future potential that RACTER,
a computer program, has almost fulfilled (insofer as such a
progrsm composes grammatically correct, but semantically
surreal, poetry without human input: "[wlhen my electrons
and neutrons war, that is my thinking" ([IIO]).
program reveals the ability of language to make sense to any
reader despite being used formulaically in any manner--or as
the computer daims, "a leotard, a commissioner, a single
hoard, al1 are understandable in their own fashion," and
"[iln that concept lies the appalling truth" ([Il83 ). 15
15~ueneau has even cited Turing in order to state
that only a machine can appreciate a sonnet written by
another machine (1961:[111). Turing argues that, for a
machine to think, it must behave only as if it thinks (53),
portraying its own mathema as a function of poiesis (through
a game of dialogic mimickry).
The dialogue between the
machinic and the anthropic may not be about a dialogue
between an original and its imitator so much as a
dialectical interaction between the two aspects of a divided
subject--a self that is reading itself as a text.
Canadian "Pata~hvsics: A 'Pataphssics of Mnemonic Exception
"Palaeontology reigns, it would seem over a
kind of criminal unconscious of the species ,
since this race for fossils, this forced
exploration bears a strange resemblance to
the exploring of the fossils of the
Each has about it the same
ressentiment as to our origins."
"In the world of 'Pataphysics, Canada is
Nowhere. " ( Wershler-Henry 1994: 6 6)
The Nowhere Science
Canadian "Pataphysicians present the third case for the
surrationalism of the 'pataphysical, revising the structure
of exception in order to oppose the irrationalism of
Canadian-Nationalists. The Canadian "Pataphysicians respond
to the avant-garde pseudo-science of Jarry by inflecting the
mnemonic intensities of palaeological forme, arguing that
exception results from the corruption of memories. The
Canadian tlPataphys ic ians have incl uded such poets as
McCaffery, Nichol, and Dewdney, al1 of whom have parodied
the environmental mythopoiesis of such critics as Frye,
Atwood, and Kroetsch (for whom literature is merely the
side-effect of a geography--the surreal terrain of a
Like Futurism and Oulipism,
"Pataphysics opposes such mysticism, treating literature,
not as a mythopoeic, but as a cyborganic, phenornenon.
Canadian "Pataphysics reveals that any attempt by
Canada to define a coherent identity for its own state in
response to the dominant identity of another state (be it
European or Arnerican) simply reifies the metaphysics of the
state itself (its nationalism, its imperialism).
"Pataphysics resorts to Jarry in order to parody the
metaphysics of both Canadian autonomy and European hegemony
--but by doing so, such "Pataphysics ironically reifies the
European hegemony of 'pataphysics itself.
observes that, for the cartography of 'pataphysics, "Canada
is Empty" (66), sous rature, since the map for the College
of 'Pataphysics does not include such a country in its
sphere of influence--even though the map appears, ironically
enough, in an issue of the Dossiers that discusses the vers
'pataphysics of the arctic (Fassio 30-31).
Wershler-Henry suggests that, despite the intent of
Jarry to address the paralogy of al1 such eccentrism, the
legacy of Jarry may have served only to install the ubiquity
of his own centrality.
Wersbler-Henry suggests that,
despite the paradox of this oversight, Canadian
"Pataphysicians have done little to unveil their obscured
presence so that, for Canada, "[t]he "~ataphysical field
remains perpetually open, [a] 'smooth space' that baffles
State attempts at philosophical containment" (67). Canadian
"Pataphysics marks its difference from its imperial cousin
(*pataphysics) through a swerve (clinamen)" (67), resorting
to European 'pataphysics in order to parody European
'pata~hysics, granting Canada its own autonomy from the
question of autonomy itself by portraying these paradoxical
endeavours as an imagined solution to mnemonic problems.
Canadian "Pataphysicians make a spectacle of thematic
banality by presenting their own brand of archaeological
misinformation, reducing such a mnemonic paradigm to a set
of 'pataphysical expenditures.
Rather than indulge in
mythomania, "pataphysicians resort to the tropes of the
anomalos, the s~zsnia, and the clinamen, in order to create
their own forrns of satirical criticism (be it the probable
systems of Nichol, the perseus proiects of McCaffery, or the
natural histories of Dewdney). This kind of nomadic science
does not attempt to portray the essence of its own culture;
instead, such criticism strives to present the play of
wonder over wisdom, evoking what Dewdney might cal1 "a
universe where whet we consider uncanny[ ...] occurs almost
ten times as frequently" (1982:30)--a universe that in the
end turns out to be none other than our own.
McCaffery and Nichol write that "Canadian "Pataphysics
quite clearly is a literature that, as yet, has no archive,"
and "[ijts absence of inscription superbly parallels its
absence of thought" (TRG 1992:303).
that Canadian "Pataphysics eludes definition, because "many
Canadian "Pataphysicists share the affinity of the European
and American colleagues for dissimulation" (68), with
individuals coexisting under various pseudonyms amid various
collectives, be they actual or unreal:
the Toronto Research
Group, the Institute of Linguistic Onto-Genetics, et al.
Canadian "Pataphysics does indeed mimick the 'pataphysics of
such European institutes as le colibne de '~ata~hasique or
l'ouvrai-r de littgrature potentielle; however, such a
science marks i ts dif f erence f rom European ' pataphysics
through s change in diacritical orthography.
Canadian "Pataphysics adds another vestigial apostrophe
to its name in order to mark not only the excess silence
im~osed upon Canadians by a European avant-garde, but also
the ironic speech proposeci bg Canadians against a European
McCaf fery and Nichol suggest that Canadian
"Pataphysics moves from elision (') to quotation (") through
a superinducement on elision--"the doubling of the elide, a
doubled inversion and inverted doubling" (TRG 1992:301). A
parody of parody itself, such 'pataphysics performs a
clinamen upon its own history, simulating it (through
quotation) while disrupting it (through deviation). The
unknown origins of 'pataphysics are explained by the unknown
science of 'pataphysics:
"the quotation[ ...] of the given
that we do not understand but with emendations that serve to
constitute our explanation" (301-302).
Canadian "Pataphysics suggests that its dual, but open,
quote signifies a "portmanteau confluence" (TRG 1992:301) of
the meta (beyond) and the para (beside), situating itself
within a place, both external and supernal
--a place that, like Canada, is defined paradoxically by its
placelessness: the interzone of ethernity. The open quote
for such a science marks the openness of a site that muat
cite its own openness.'
Its space does not tell the vhole
truth because it never has the lest word.
To quote truth in
such a space is to engage in an endless process of eruptive
aperture, "the [ s ]cience of the never-ending ,
never-commencing discourse" (302)--a science without a fixed
ground for generalization, only a fluid field for
specialization: "Our whole can only be our part. This is
the stated openness of our quotation." (303).
Canadian "Pataphysics quotes European 'Pataphysics in
order to parody the mythic desire in Canada for an
autonomous, if not indigenous, archetype of mnemonic
identity, be it the theme of pastoralism, as in the case of
Frye (1971:241) or the theme of survivalism, as in the case
of Atwood (1972:32).
Such criticism seeks to establish a
mnemonic paradigm of originality through an act that
Kroetsch might cal1 "archaeology" (1989:2)--a term allegedly
borrowed from Foucault, but misunderstood by Kroetsch, who
attributes to it a hermeneutic connotation that Foucault is
careful to avoid. As Davey suggests, this kind of mnemonic
thematism is a reductive endeavour, often characterized by
simplistic misprision (1983:3). At best, such criticism is
nothing more than a poor case of unconscious 'pat~physics,
largely unaware of its own philosophic absurdities.
Canadian "Pataphysicians parody the acedemic banality
of such critics by proposing a philosophic alternative to be
studied by irrational thinktanks:
the Toronto Research
Group, the Institute for Linguistic Ontogenetics, the
"Pataphysical Hardware Company, et al.--virtual cartels that
act as marginal cognates for the academies of Laputa or
.' Like le coll&ne de '~ataphusiaue or 1 ' ouvroir de
littthture potentielle, such phantasmatic institutions
comprise a Canadian set of 'pataphysical laboratories, al1
of which explore the poetics of anomaly, on the assumption
that literary research must be more experimental than
instrumental : "al1 research is symbiotic & cannot exist
separate from writing," and "where action eliminates the
need for writing[,] research can function to discover new
uses for potentially outdated forms" (TRG 1992:23).
Imaginary academies, such as these, al1 imply that the
mythic desire for cultural essences can only reinforce the
metaphysical theorization of an imperial paradigm.
research, theories do not necessarily involve an ad hoc
exploration of writing during the process of writing, but
involve a de facto exploitation of writing after the process
Al1 theories face their object with autocratic
stances and imperative tactics.
Al1 theories in effect
subordinate thought to the nomic instrumentalism of a royal
science, whereas research coordinates thought through the
ludic experimentalism of a nomad science.
For the research
of such imaginary acsdemies, language itself represents a
cyborganic phenornenon, in which every text becomes a poetic
device, a novel brand of "book-machine," whose virologic
mechanism uses us more than we use it. 3
The Toronto Research Group, for example, rejects
univocal theories in favour of dialogic research, replacing
the scientific individual with the collective endeavour of
"a synthetic subject (based on a We-full, not an I-less
paradigm)" (TRG 1992:lO-11).
Rather than embrace the royal
imperialism of an objective science, such a thinktank
studies the nomad radicalism of a sophistic science, arguing
thst, because "al1 theory is transient & after the fact of
writing" (23) , the poetic research of s "pataphysician
differs from the noetic theories of a metaphysician:
reports make no pretence to a professorial legitimation"
(12); instead, they risk the propriety of reasoning itself
through the theoretical eclecticism of "synthetic proposals"
(10-11). Such research provides a ludic alibi for the
mnemonic- paralogy of a radical science.
The Institute for Linguistic Ontogenetics, likewise,
rejects a royal paradigm in favour of a nomad paralogy,
replacing the theories of structural linguistics with the
research of linauistic ontogenetics, "a tool for prying
mankind from[ ...] set mental attitudes towards language--set
attitudes which, for the most part, are based upon
linguistic superstition" (Writers 1985: 44). Rather than
reprise a fixed array of semic forms, such a thinktank
invents its own mathetic axiology, one that defines language
in terms, not of an objective structure, but of a
"projective wordstruct," whose forms do not depict, so much
as create, reality through a kind of quantum physics, or
lingual atomism, which Truhlar describes as "chronospatiodynamic"
(1980:lOZ). Such research also provides a ludic
alibi for the mnemonic paralogy of a radical science.
The "Pataphysical Hardware Company, moreover, imagines
an applied science that might utilize such surrational
innovations in order to produce an array of marketable
commodities--"[e]verything for your imaginary needs" (Nichol
1993:115): not blank paper, but "Genuine Brand Blank
Verse"; not plaster dust, but "Jarry Brand Plaster de
Paris"; not rose seeds, but "Grow Your Own Stein Poem," etc.
Such a project does not celebrate a functional technology so
much as satirize the linguistic dysfunction of the object
itself, its potential to be deployed in any way imaginable,
despite the standard function for which it has been normally
Such objects parody the fetishes of a capital
economy, whose phvnance encourages conspicuous consumption
(among other imaginary solutions) in order to fulfill a
panoply of desires that do not exist.
Irrational thinktanks such as these are as ephemeral as
a toy balloon with the word "thought" written upon it (so
that the owner of such "Pataphysical Hardware might
drarnatize the act of "pataphysics itself by inserting the
inflated balloon into a headband, literally producing a
comic-strip thought-bubble thst is in turn destroyed through
the use of an accompanying "thought suppressant"--a pin).
Such an allegorical destruction of reason characterizes the
whimsy of what McCaffery might cal1 a "'pataphysicalized
(f)unctionW (1980:12)--an exercise in "FUTILITY, which,
expressed as F t UTILITY becomes that[...]which
LETTER BEYOND UTILITY" (12). The letter "Fu symbolizes the
excess of anomalous exception--"the play of FREEDOM[ ...]
WITHIN FUNCTION" (12): ie. what supplements the "unction"
of an otherwise reassuring, but inhibiting, purpose.
Rational - Geomancu
Canadian "Pataphysics suggests that the mythomania of
thematic thinkers is a kind of unconscious 'pataphysics that
takes place in what Wurstwagen calls "the oscillating noplace
of speculative geology" (1980:150). Wershler-Henry
observes that such paleology represents a "lexical chain
that runs through the strata of Csnadian "Pataphysics like a
vein of precious metal, linking disparate elements in
intriguing ways" (68). "Pataphysics swerves away from the
royal science of geology toward the nomad science of
a rational geomancy that can oppose a
national geography: "[w]e mean by Rational Geomancy the
acceptance of a multiplicity of means[ ...] to reorganize
those energy patterns we perceive in literature," and "[bly
eneras pattern we mean that configuration of discharges[ ...]
arising from[ ...] engagement with a text" (TRG 1992:153).
Geomancy norrnally involves an art of divination by
interpreting the signs of the earth, its telluric rhythm
and tectonic stresses. Such a discipline involves a
realignment of topographies. Parts are arranged to produce
ley lines of force; cracks are read as fault lines in a
form. To read is a seismic act that makes a schiz, a shift,
in the relation of these parts to each other, either fusing
them together or rending them apart.
To be a rational
geomancer is to apply this mode1 of reading, not only to the
land (the as is of the ontic), but also to a text (the as if
of the semic):
"the geomantic view of literature sees
interpretation as any system of alignment" (TRG 1992:153).
A rational geomancer uses 'pataphysics to rechart the fault
1 ines that separate reason f rom unreason , realigning the
nationalist cartography of both a terrain and its culture.
Canadian "Pataphysics suggests that rational geomancy
deploys the exception of the clinamen in order to read
a~ainst the arain:
ie. such geomancy involves a radicalized
realignment in the very idea of geomancy itself. Whereas a
thematic pedagogue (such as Atwood or Frye) interprets
sovereign geography as a metaphysical cipher for a mythic
memory (believing such a "myth" to be true), a rational
geomancer interprets memory itself as a 'pataphysical cipher
for an imaginary landscape (believing the "true" to be a
What Truhlar calls "psychopaleontology" refers to
this geomantic principle of memory: "the theory that
societies[ ... ~unconsciously determine[ ...) theirl... 1
biological destinies through the procreative force of their
Such a mnemonic paradigm regards
culture as nothing more than a geographic simulacrum.
Wurstwagen, for example, indulges in 'pataphysical
archaeology by misreading a Muskokan watertower as a Yucatan
skytemple, "as if the architecture [has] framed a discourse
in which stone [is] speaking to stone without the clumsy
intermediary of the human mind" (1980:148). Wurstwagen
misreads the evidence of the structure in order to argue
that historians have misread the structure of evidence
itself. Canadian history has occulted its potential for the
occulting of Canadian history.
The very "mytho-
bastardization" (1980:144) that he vilifies in others, he
practices himself--but only to imply that al1 such
standardized knowledge is bastardized knowledge. The
clinamen in the form of his argument parallels the clinamen
in the form of the ziggurat: "a dominant aesthetic[ ...] of
telluric rhyrnel ...] and energic clinamen" (145).
Wurstwagen argues that the absence of writing on this
ancient obelisk stems from a stone taboo, "the strict
injuncture that no man shall write upon the stone-that-is-
already written" ( 1980: 149).
Unlike any other petroglyphic
civilization, this bizarre culture does not write messages
upon the rock, but reads messages into the rock.
archaeologist plots the evolution of an aboriginal
settlement from a reading culture (that is agraphie) to a
writing culture (that is dyslexic). Al1 writing emerges
from this functional illiteracy only as a kind of occluded
"topographie cipher" (153) that acts as a
palirnpsest, mimicking the writing in the granite, while
deviating from the writing in the granite.
becomes a "vacuscript" (153)--not an absence of writing so
much as a writing of absence.
Canadian "Pataphysicians suggest that such a vacuscript
coincides with 'pataphysics itself, insofar as its imaginary
solutions code their own existence into the form of their
Such a fantastic portrait of a Meso-
American past in effect provides a satirical allegory for
Anglo-Canadian life--a culture that has also practiced its
own absurd version of the stone taboo:
at first, the
culture only reads other books while its own books go
unwritten; then later, the culture writes its own books
which in turn go unread. The 'petaphysical taboo of this
regional mythology parodies the metaphysical dream of a
The vacuscript may have no readership--
but (as McCaffery suggests), "[wlhen the book is closed, it
becomes the SPECULATIVE TEXT imagined and written outside of
an actual writing" (1980:12).
Canadisn "Pataphysics parodies the exotic status of
Canada--the otherness of what Baudrillard might cal1 the
phantasie of Patagonia:
"[tlhe disappearance of the
Indians ,- your own disappearance, that of al1 culture, al1
landscape, in the bleakness of your mists and ice" (1993b:
149). Baudrillard argues that , for such geographic
dispersion, "[tlhe last word here is that it is better to
put an end to a process of creeping disappearance (ours) by
means of a live sojourn in a visible form of disappearance"
--"[ tlhat is why 'Patagonia' goes so well with
'Pataphysics,' which is the science of imaginary solutions"
(149). Canadian "Pataphysics performs an agonistic
spectacle, responding to the disappearance of Patagonis with
a hyperbole of its own disappearance, as if "laIll
translations into action are imaginary solutions" (149).
Like the Futurists and the Oulipians, the
"Patsphysicians prefer the ludic speculation of the as if to
the nomic articulation of the as is.
They strive to create
what McCaffery might cal1 a "'PATATEXT" (13)--a kind of
vacuscript , whose reading eludes the instrumentalism of an
imperial semantic by putting the notion of play itself into
Such a 'patatextual sensibility characterizes the
nomadic studies of "pataphysicians, who resort to the tropes
of the anomalos, the syzygia, and the clinamen, in order to
create their own forms of satirical criticism (be it the
probable svstems of Nichol, the perseus pro-jects of
McCaffery, or the natural histories of Dewdney).
might imply, such criticism reveals that "[tlhe poet lis] in
the same vanguard of research as physics, molecular
chemistry, and pure mathematics" (1980b:Zl).
Nichol defies the imperial paradigm of paleology in
order to propose his own 'pataphysical archaeology about the
Canadian f rontier.
Nichol wilfully misreads the mathema
( rather than the poiesis) of historiographie interpretation
in order to extract an improbable secret from a geological
For Nichol, al1 of history becomes an imaginary
solution to the millenary problems of memory, and despite
the ironic title of his "probable systems," such a
pathological hermeneutics results in the most "improbable"
of paradigms--a kind of mathetic ~ematria, its tone both
scientific and cabalistic at the same time.
suggests that what is probable coincides with what is most
provable, and indeed the probable systems are staged as
proofs," but in terms that cal1 to mind, not only an
algebraic syllogism, but also the idea of a "rough draft."
Nichol argues that his probable systems constitute a
set of preliminary experiments for a possible science, whose
nomad research defies the prejudices of royal theories:
" there are those who[ . . . )wish to suppress this line of
research even as there are others who wish to dismiss it
thru ridicule" (1990:28).
Such "rough drafts" are probable
(in a "pataphysical sense) not because they can be proven,
ut because they can be probed. They are "probe-able"
systems. They maintain a formal rigour despite their sober
whimsy, since they all express a hypothetical reason for
their 'pataphysical design. Like nurnber theory, which often
reveals uncanny patterns in mathematical correlations, the
probable systems reveal 'pataphysical coincidences in a
lexical field. Such proof s systematically generate
alternative insights and informative surprises.
Nichol repeats the project of Oulipo, using a mathetic
axiology in order to suggest that a formula can provide a
ternplate for linguistic structures .( Nichol demonstrates,
for example, that each letter can become a variable for the
value of its position in the alphabet, just as each word can
in turn becorne a relation for the sum of these values:
hence, the word "faith" can be expressed as the operation
"6 + 1 t 9 + 20 + 8," whose total value, "44," can be
expressed as the operation "8 + 15 + 16 + S''--the
the word "hope" (1985:48). The "pataphysical unlikelihood
that two-words of equal value might also be synonymous
(proving mathematically, for example, that "faith" does
indeed equate with "hope") can only lend credence to our
"faith" that, behind the uncanniness of coincidence, there
probably exists the secret agenda of a forma1 system. 5
Nichol deploys such a "patsphysical cryptography in
order to suggest that just as the numbers 1 to 9 in base 10
can be recombined to express any number beyond the number 9,
so also can the letters A to 2 in "base alphabet" (1990:99)
be recombined to express any letter beyond the letter Z.
Just as the standard number 9 might equal 14 in base 5, so
also might the standard letter 1 equal AD in base E.
'pataphysical mathematics irnplies that texts do not transmit
messages so much as encode the value for some hypothetical
letter (which is itself some astronornical number) far beyond
the limits of the standard alphabet:
"Remembrances O f
Thinas Fast could be considered the complex expression of a
single letter an unimaginable distance beyond A" (1990:106).
Like a numeral series, every lexical series encodes a
specific position within a continuum of infinite anagrams. 6
Nichol deploys the tactics of such a "pataphysical
mathematics in order to perform his own genre of speculative
archaeology--a weird genre that imagines an historical
conspiracy of mnemonic oddities:
for exemple, Nichol
misreads a roadrnap printed on a courtesy placemat from a
motel in Winnipeg, interpreting the chart as an array of
"alphabetic routings within which messages are contained"
( 1990 : 25 ) .' Nichol d a i m s that the roadinap depicts the
archaeological ruins of alphabetical sites, each of which
provides evidence for the existence of a Manitoba Alphabet
Cult--an ancient culture that has encoded ciphers into the
terrain in order to produce a mnemonic "landuagetf of
'pataphysical portmanteaux (1993:75)--messages to be
interpreted in the future by a society that has learned to
use the avant-garde pseudo-science of rational geomancy. 7
Nichol argues that the place-names along the ley-lines
of highways form homophonie sentences that encrypt multiple
for exarnple, "Erikson rackham onanole wasagaming"
(a sequence of villages) becomes "~ir sticks on a rock hum
an old W as a gaming" (1993:75). Such a "doubling of
messages" (77) (through semantic conflation), with its
"wrinklings of meaning" (83) (through syntactic repetition),
can supposedly preserve the maximum amount of data in the
minimum length of word so that the Manitoba Alphabet
Cult might ensure that at least some of its messages can
survive against the erosion of history:
"it is not chance,
or mere whimsy, that [hasl produced these town names, but a
system of prodded & forced responses undoubtedly much lîke
the systems [that] magicians use to force us to pick the
book [that] they want us to pick" (1993:78).
Nichol writes that, for such a culture, "the alphabet
[has] a visible existence in the world," and "the feu proofs
[that] we see in the present (alphabet-shaped rocks &
plants[. . . ] , etc. ) reference a richer[. . . Ipast" (Writers
34)--a past that provides a mnemonic allegory for the poetic
legacy of Canada itself:
"[tlhere was once a country in
which each new thought was seen as demanding a new sign,
"but "[f Jinally there were so many signs that[ ,] tho one
spent a lifetime one could not learn them all," and "th0
disciples faithfully wrote down new signs as they occurred,
they were no longer sure if they were truly new since al1
[of] that could no longer be known, & even unfamiliar truth
dazzled because it seemed new" (1993:126-127).
genuine novelty is hardly ever appreciated; instead, an old
myth is al1 too often misconstrued as a new idea.
Nichol strives to lampoon this mistake (endemic among
thematic scholars), doing so by arguing, not that the land
determines the text, but that the text is itself a land--a
land, whose interzone is interpreted according to a
Such an exercise constructs a
false origin, a "realphabett' (1980b:42), whose ironic series
contains a "SECRET NARRATIVE" (43), a mythic cipher: "(A ->
V) = X" (43)--a formula, whose structure suggests that, no
mstter what the order of the alphabet, its forma1 series is
always "equivalent" to some variable of the unknown.
the probable systems probe the domains of this unknown,
suggesting that to expand the field of its veritability is
to expand the field of its possibilities.
The search for an
origin becomes a paranoid activity that ultimstely creates
the memory of its own origin. 7
McCaffery also defies the imperial paradigrn of
paleology in order to propose his own 'pataphysical
archaeology about the Canadian f rontier . McCaf fery of fers a
paranoid criticism, extracting a secret history from a known
geology by studying a "TRILOBITE ALPHABET," whose
paleoalvphs require a kind of mnemonic literacy ( 1981 : 4-5 ) :
"[c]onstructed is an analogical framework of great
complexity with a method (the operating 'pataphysics) based
largely upon a posited similaritg in features between
language and geology and intended to function translatively
as a modifying instrument upon the data of experience"
( 1986: 190). History, for McCaf fery, provides an imaginary
solution-to the millenary problems of memory, permitting
the culture of one extinct species to be read back through
the devices of yet another species.
McCaf fery conf ronts the petrifying mythomania of
Canadian scholars by performing a swerve upon their own
thematized investment in the classical tradition of
"[ilf nothing else the Perseus Project
[opens] the curtains on a new philosophic theatre in which
the Medusa story can be re-staged; where Perseus might
return the same prince as before and stand with face averted
£rom the gorgonU--"[b]ut this time his shining shield
[becomes) the blank pages of a voluminous[ ...] dictionary,
and the image reflected there Lis] his own" (1981:9-10).
The geological misprision of such a myth opens the way for a
'pataphysical hermeneutics that reflects, not upon, but
aaainst, the bestoned image of its own unveiled truth,
sign in its state of non-signification" (191)--or (as
Dewdney might suggest):
"[meanings] are like the soft parts
of a decaying fish, they rot away and leave only the
skeleton to be preserved as a fossil" (l98Ob:23).
McCaffery suggests that, like a word, such a rock holds
a position within a grid of forms-a
tabula, created by the
horizontal axis of spatial ordering (ie. the line) and the
vertical axis of temporal layering (ie. the page):
"[fjossil relates to stratum as 'parole1 relates to
' langue' , as syntagm to paradigm" ( 1986 : 191 ) . Language is
used to create a metaphor that converts the diachronic mode
of linguistic temporality into, what McCaffery calls, "the
synchronic form of a 'pataphysical structure:
epitomizes this transformation" (192). Such a 'pataphysical
paleontology develops a conceit that language is itself a
subgenre of geology:
langue, like the mass of the earth, is
a stratum, a tier in an "articulated surface" ( NS), just as
parole, like a node in the earth, is a plexum, a fold in a
"surfaced articulationtt ( 192 ) .
McCaf fery develops a ' pataphysical metaphor that calls
to mind the paleological imagery of Deleuze and Guattari,
who argue that language involves a process of stratification:
each molecule is sorted into layered forms (a
sediment), and these layered forms are then folded into a
molarity (an aggregate) (1987:40).
The two modes of this
"double articulation" are mutually relative:
only Vary from one stratum to another, but intermingle, and
within the same stratum multiply and divide ad infinitum"
(44) When the process of stratifying ninerals becomes
reflexive, it makes a protein; when the process of
stratifying proteins becomes reflexive, 3t rnakes a cellule;
and when the process of stratifying cellules becomes
reflexive, it makes a thought.
No fossil is simply a figure
for a phrase; instead, every fossil can become a phrase.
McCaffery imagines a kind of Darwinian philosophy,
reminiscent of Dawkins, who argues that language is nothing
but an ecology, in which memes, or ideas (such as the idea
of memes), can proliferate in a virological manner (19).
Language is just the latest update of a machine that has
found its own diverse methods to replicate itself (be it
through geoseismic fossilization, biogenetic hybridization,
or semiologic symbolization--three
processes which establish
a kind of conjugal relation, a paleosexualitv, between rock,
life, and word).
Such diverse methods are not mutual
they do not mimick each other so much as mutate
into each other.
As McCaffery remarks, "language [is] a
sexual system entirely alien to the human species, a
paleozoic conspiracy, a saturated networkl ...] that uses man
far more than man uses it" (1981:75). 1 O
McCaffery imagines that, like genetic fossils, which
have evolved through many different phases and many
different strata, language itself resembles a process of
anagrammatic recombination, in which "alphabetic
chromosomes" (1981:8) mate with each other, articulating
themselves within one code, infiltrating themselves into
another code, then sedimenting themselves within a new code:
"[wlhereas fossil production takes place over millions of
years inside the framework of geologic time, fossil re-
production occurs more rapidly within active linguistic
time" (7), becoming a global tactic of replacement that
begins to substitute everything for itself--or as Dewdney
suggests, "[plarticle/ by particle the solid reality that
composed the/ allegorical ground he stood on is replaced by/
fantasies and lies. (fossilization)" (1975~87).
McCaffery implies that fossils eliminate any grounds
for the truth of meaning: "ftlhe fossil 'sentence'[ ...]
answers a non-existent question and hence is by nature
'pataphysical" (1986:199). Whenever "we dig deeper into the
etymological strata for the key term:
fossil from fodere:
to dig as towards the latent truth and/or the latent lie,"
we discover that "[tlhe tone of this mendacity within[ ...]
'pataphysics instigates a confrontation with the linguistic
form that carries it" (1986:199). Such paleology performs
an act of genetic mutation, recombining disparate elements
into anomalous equations:
"[wlith these new awarenesses we
can only enter into a philosophy of the unthinkable, where
meaning is finally detsched from the human mind and where
words no longer mean anything" (1981:9)--instead, they
become a vacuscript of imaginary alphabets.
538. Dewdney also defies the imperial paradigm of paleology
in order to propose his own 'pataphysical archaeology about
the Cansdian landscape.
Dewdney offers a paransid
criticism, extracting a historic secret from a geologic
syntax, by studying an invisible catalogue, "a heraldry in
creation unseen" (1991:20), "a semiology we can just barely
comprehend" (25)--the "inventory [of] a personal, regional
identity- directly informed by natural history" (43 ) .
History, for Dewdney, is also an imaginary solution to the
millenary problems of memory, parodying two textual
traditions simultaneously, operating not only within, but
also against, these traditions:
first, the romantic
tradition that depicts nature in terms of a sublime
pantheism; second, the scientific tradition that depicts
nature in terms of a mundane positivism. 12
Dewdney understands that natural history has typically
restricted itself to a taxonornic continuum, into which al1
nature may be presumably fitted without distortion. Nature
is read as a hierarchical list of species, a great ladder in
which each rung is separated from its neighbour by only the
smallest possible difference: a segmented continuum. 13
Dewdney itemizes such a "radiant inventory" ( 1988: 11 ) , but
unlike traditional taxonomies, his own blazon of nature is
itemized without apparent categories as though to preserve
the implicit randomness found in nature rather than impose
an explicit lawfulness upon such a nature.
Such a project
simply follows the clinamen in the traject of its own
thinking on the assumption that "[tlhe random is our
existential dilemma to a certain extent, the basis of
everything, the background hum of the real" (1990:85).
Dewdney strives to perform a clinamen upon such an
onornastic endeavour by resorting to the kind of automatic
scription that can supposedly access the racial mernory of
"the voice of the land and the creatures
themselves, speaking from the inviolate fortress of a
primaeval history" (1983:8). Dewdney resorts to the
'pataphysics of such automatism in order to transforrn the
surrealist psychology of the irrational into the futuristic
technology of the surrational.
Giving themselves up to what
Dewdney calls remote control (1975:92), "pataphysicians
might eventually eliminate the interference of the self in
order to become receptive to the dictation of a machinic
#'[t]he radio telescope becomes a mode1 of the
bi-conscious interface between 'the mind' and signals from
the 'outside' which the poet receives" (1980b:20).
Dewdney goes on to use such "pataphysics to parody the
mythomania of Canadian criticism by arguing that cultural
identity arises 'pataphysically from the mnemonic paradigm
of a geology:
"[als there is/ a water table/ there is also/
a memory table" (1973:)--a register punctuated by
"unknowns which, however perfectly dissected, never yield
their identity" ( 165) ).
Such a culture occupies "two
worlds--the one diurnal men know and that other world where
lunar mottled eels stir like dreams in shallow forest water"
(1982: 151 ; moreover, natural history can document the shift
from one world to the other, replacing the ontic with the
semic, through an oneiric process of transmutative
"[alllowing both [of] these mechanisms to
continue operating , we slowly remove and replace theiyr
parts with corresponding and interlocking nothings" (15).
Dewdney suggests that this dreamworld, this Traumwelt,
of automatic scription can be realized through the
hypothetical future of "Manual Precognition" (McFadden 93).
Dewdney mimics the evolution of a genetic message by writing
some ten pages, then erasing a few parts, whereupon he fills
the resultant void with the continuing text so thst the
leading edge of the writing is carried back through what has
already been written:
"[tlhe first sentence carries within
it the blueprint for the whole subsequent work, much as an
embryo contains the code for the adult," but "[ulnlike an
uncovered law[ ...], the progeny of the original sentence can
mutate & return to the site of the inception to alter it"
(1986:73). Such a reflexive teleology provides an allegory
for the recursive evolution, not only of a literary text,
but also of the sentient mind itself.
Dewdney resorts to such a biological figurality in
order to argue that language itself has taken on a vitality
of its own, living in parasitic symbiosis with us, trading
its reproduction for our consciousness: "[llanguage can be
regarded as a psychic parasite which has genetically
earmarked a section of the cortex for its own accommodation"
(1986:59), utilizing humans as neural slaves in its own
sentience, and "[tlhe intact survive1 of this intelligence
is threatened by one thing only, and that is the discovery
and subsequent exploration of its plane of existence by
ourselves, its human host" (1980b:25). This 'pataphysical
hypothesis is complicated by the fact that, just as there is
a parasite in us, there is also a parasite in language,
because language in effect feeds upon itself:
"it is the
mind/ eating itself" (1980a:12).
Dewdney suggests that, like al1 machines, language is
itself cyborganic, its operation regulated by a Governor and
The Governor is a mechanical device that
remlates a machinic function; the Parasite is a cyborganic
device that sabotages a machinic function. l4
and the Parasite are in a sense both parasitic ( insofar as
they disrupt a process), but whereas the Governor directs a
flow toward a homeostatic lirnit (a repetition within
controls), the Parasite directs a flow toward an
homeorrhetic excess (a cornpetition beyond control).
Governor unveils the power of language over us; the Parasite
reveals the power of language in us:
"[tJhe Governor is an
adamant limit beyond which[...]it
is impossible to
conceptualize" (1980b:25), while "[tJhe Parasite allows the
poet to function beyond his own capability" (31).
Dewdney imagines that "pataphysics is itself a
parasitic discourse that might subvert the piety of a
"the notion of a supreme being is
a renouncement of the human miracle" (1987921, and "the
correction for [such] piety is natural history" (1982:lO). 15
The exceptional unlikelihood of life itself already endows
reality with a mystery so wondrous that it requires no
recourse to a domain beyond thought in order to render it
even more wondrous:
"[ulltimately our cosmos functions as
an inhuman, yet intimate, phenomenology to which we impute
deistic attributes because we cannot conceive of anything so
subtle[ ...] operating without consciousness as we know it"
(1991:43). The universe puts itself at the infinite
disposa1 of an insatiable curiosity, in which every irnagined
solution opens up a new set of 'pataphysical speculations.
The Everywhere Science
Canadian "Pataphysics operates upon the assumption that
reality itself comprises a manifold universe of referential
uncertainty, what Dewdney might cal1 a "handfed illusion"
(1980a:68), in which "it [is] completely impossible to
systematically reason if we [have] awakened from our dreams
on a collective or individual basis" (1973:).
"Pataphysics presumes that reality does not exist per se,
but is created by us to be studied by us; hence, such an
avant-garde pseudo-science cannot regard the reality of
Canada itself as anything more than a superstitious
hallucination (despite the best efforts of thematic scholars
to prove otherwise); instead, such an avant-garde pseudoscience
performs a clinamen upon the mythomania of
archetypes in order to show that such tropes only represent
imaginsry solutions to the problem of cultural identity.
Canadian "Pataphysics attempts to perceive the world
only through the ironic window of what Nichol might cal1 a
CRITICAL FRAME OF REFERENCE--a char sheet of acetate that
permits the user to reach "new levels of philosophical and
philological awareness" (1993:123) since the user can simply
place the FRAME (a Fixed Reference and Meaning Explainer)
over an area of text in order to respond to skeptical
inquiries about the context for an academic argument, The
FRAME differs from less expensive models sold by less
reputable stores because the frame lacks "the now obsolete
black border whose funereal aspect properly announces the
intellectual death of its users" (123); instead, the FRAME
has clear edges that become invisible st a distance so that.
in the end, "the whole world fits inside the frame" (lZ3),
the real coinciding with its "pataphysical perspectivism.
Canadian "Pataphysics provides the 1at.est detour in an
historical trajectory that develops the 'pataphysics of
Jarry according to three successive, cyborganic modes:
machinic, the mathetic, and the mnemonic.
inspired a century of experimentations, in which
'pataphysicians attempt to imagine the as if of a nomadic
science, whose sophistries might draw attention to the
poetics of a neglected exception, be it the excess of the
anomalos, the chiasm of the syzsaia, or the swerve of the
"Our hope is a faint one," avers the Toronto
"that others will follow and in following
lead to the collection of the neglected and (who knows, as a
poetic corollary, the neglect of the collected) those whom
we have failed to remember or were forced to ignore, the
already passed and the yet to corne" (TRG 1992:303).
Wershler-Henry observes, moreover, that even this
historical trajectory of exception must itself undergo its
own form of revision, disrupting the normalization of
'pataphysical abnormalities so that "each generation of
"Pataphysicians must anticipate its own irrelevance" (76).
Like metaphysics before i t , ' pataphysics has already begun
to establish a tradition of millenary problems, for which
only a metaleptic discipline (a 'pataphysics about
'pataphysics) might provide the as if of an imaginary
solution. As Jarry observes:
"[wle too shall become
solemn, fat, and Ubu-like and shall publish extremely
classical books," and "another lot of young people will
appear, and consider us completely out of date, and they
will write ballads to express their loathing of us, and that
is just the way things should always bel' (1965:85).
Notes to Chapter 5
l~ronicall~, the openness of the quotation mark
in Canadian "Pataphysics calls to mind the openness of the
ellipsis marks in the last line of Doctor Faustroll:
"Pataphysics is the science. . . . " (Jarry 1965 : 256 ) . The
original sentence in French can be translsted as either a
completed thought or a suspended thought (as if to suggest
that such a science marks the unfulfilled expectation of a
solution, whose completion occurs only in the imaginary):
"the irreverence of the common herdl . . . ] sums up the science
of "Pataphysics in the following phrase: " (TRG 1980: 13 ) .
'~eabershi~ in these imaginary thinktanks is
The Toronto Research Group is comprised of
McCaffery and Nichol; the Institute for Linguistic
Ontogenetics is comprised of Dean, Truhlar, Riddell, et al;
and the "Pataphysical Hardware Company is comprised of
Nichol alone. Other organizations include the Institute for
Creative- Misunderstanding, the Institute for Hmmrian
Studies, and the Institute for Applied Fiction, al1 of which
appear and vanish without warning throughout the recent
legacy of literary research in Canada,
'~he Toronto Research Group studies the anornalaus
potential in the parodic algebra of its own mechanismic
speculation: relationality (in the translating of a text);
sequentiality (in the chronicling of a text); and
theatricality (in the drematizing of a text), etc.
desiring machines of Deleuze and Guattari, such neglected
subgenres intervene in a flow of data (facilitating it or
debilitating it) in order to reveal that, between writer and
reader, "[tlhere is at al1 points a machine that secretes
and a machine that consumes" (TRG 1992:172).
'~ichol imitates the Jarryesque mathematics of
Queneau in order to parody the science of Greimasian
linguistics. Like an ontogenetic semiotician who uses
"pataphysics to calculate the grammatic densities of
language in order to derive their geometric rnorphology
(oblate spheroid for Italian, prolate spheroid for English,
etc.) (TRG 1980:lll-112), Nicha1 attempts to calculate the
qualities of an uttered thought:
its heaviness (1980a:113);
its quickness (1990: 34) ; the full length of its periphery
(1990:16); and the square root of its rationale (1985:89).
'~ichol even goes so far as to imagine a device
for measuring the signified:
a graduated cylinder, whose
increments are marked off, not with numbers, but with
Such a device implies that to impose a
random system upon the real by arbitrarily demarcating
differences between signifier and signified only results in
absurdities no less bizarre than an imagistic form of long
division: for example, a giraffe, a woman, a church, and a
sailboat, when divided by a woman and a sailboat, equals a
cello, a giraffe, and a weathercock, etc. (115).
'~ichol suggests, for example, that the poem
"Translating ~pollinaire" is the 54,786,210,294,570th letter
in such an infinite alphabet (1990:112). To write is to
quote one of the points in this series, and to equate the
set of the alphabet with a set of al1 integers raises
questions about the continuity of such sequences: "the
concept of whole letter is itself an interesting one[ ...]
since if you have H &[...II
what are the fractional letters
in between them & what do they express" (1985:89)
no way of adequately expressing such improbable exigencies.
h h o l provides a "patsphysical explanation of a
weathermap, arguing that such a chart is not a map of a
protean climate, but an act of "alphabet worship," plotting
"the movement of gigantic airborne H's & L's over
continental North ~merica" in "a time when the letter (&
hence the word) f are] present in the world as thing, as
visible fact in the land & air scapes" (Writers 24-25).
alphabet in effect represents the record, not of speech
itself, but of living beings, sublime letters, now extinct,
but nevertheless remembered by a cabal of secret agents.
'~c~af fery argues that " just as fossils verbalize
so words fossilize" (1986:191): both of these "blind forms"
signify an absence (which has in turn corne to signify the
essence of Canada itself: its desertedness). Like fossils,
letters constitute a meteoric detritus, whose sedimentation
can be studied by a nomadic science: "What remains after
erosion is often desert, and in desert often lie hidden
That is an appealing narrative of
sediment-perhaps, but one occluding an important fact:
to the true nomad there is no desert." (TRG 1992:19).
'~eleuze and Guattari assert thst " [tlhe strata
are judgements of God (but the earth[...]constantly eludes
that judgement) (1987:40). Stratification is a royal
process of capture that arranges disparate parts into
long-range, large-scale orders of solidity, and these strata
are always subject to a nomad process of rupture which
deranges disparate parts into short-range, small-scale
orders of fluidity.
Such "deterritorializationl' not only
generates a new stratum at another level, but also modulates
its own stratum within its level.
"~c~af fery implies that paleosexual ity provides
an allegory for an epidemic of accidental coincidence--a
breakdown of postmodern chronology.
recombine fossils, producing anomalous conjugations of
different ternporalities: "[e]arthquakes[ ...)sre nothing
other than a fossil orgasm recorded upon the chronometric
grid of human catastrophe" (1981:4). The act of
fossilization merely offers a conceit for postmodern
simulation--the substitution of images for things within a
system of synchronistic disappearance.
I1~ccaffery suggests that fossilization is simply
a cipher for dissimulation--a hypothesis that calls to mind
Borges, who observes that, to a zoologist like Gosse, a
divinity may have constructed evidence for an infinite past
that appears to have preceded the moment of creation, but
that has never really occurred as an aspect of creation, so
that, while the evidence of dinosaurs might exist, dinosaurs
themselves have never existed (1964:24).
Such a theory of
the as if implies that humanity might have appeared only a
few moments ago with implanted mernories of a fake past.
I2~evdney suggests that Canada suffers from "a
fear of intelligence based on the notion of s dichotomy
between the heart and the head as if intelligence had no
heart, therefore to have heart you have to be dumb"
(1990:88). Dewdney repeats the romantic redaction of piety,
but without the romantic suspicion of reason. He suggests
that an apoetic vision of nature only increases the figura1
appeal of nature.
The text synthesizes this binary
opposition by making the scientific seem romantic, while
rnaking the romantic seem scientif ic.
l3~ewdney almost evokes the theories of Foucault,
who argues that natural history is a quotidian discourse
that attempts to decompose, then recompose, its own
" [ i ] t leaps over the everyday vocabulary that
provides it with its immediate ground, and beyond that
ground it searches for that which could have constituted its
raison d'être; but, inversely, it resides in its entirety in
the area of language, since it is essentially a concerted
use of names and since its ultimate aim is to give things
their true denomination" (1973: 161 ).
"~he Governor represents a restricted econorny of
function and utility (the prosaic boredom of habit and
clichk). The Parasite represents a generalized economy of
dysfunction and inutility (the poetic freedom of crime and
flair). A parasite signifies the entropy of a system, the
noise that depletes the information from its own scale of
order, but that nevertheless augments the information of a
another scale of order. A poet disrupts communication, not
simply to break it down, but to make it more complex--to
accentuate the potential for both anomaly and novelty.
15~ewdney suggests that natural history bears
witness to a supernal grandeur.
Eech book, for example,
details the account of a citizen who has lived through a
tornado: "a primal, sacred experience of[ ...] random
violencew--but "a cruelty without malice derived from an
impartiality at the kart of nature" (1991:43). Al1 such
catastrophes represent the manifestation of alterity itself
--the otherness that underlies the hidden agenda of events:
"that which is most completely out of control most clearly
reveals the workings of the unseen machinations" (1982:64).
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